Union Blasts GE Decision to Close Fort Edward Plant

Union Blasts GE Decision to Close Fort Edward Plant
GE today announced its “final decision” to close the Fort Edward capacitor plant, destroying 200
jobs, and moving operations to Clearwater, Florida, where it plans to pay poverty wages of $8 to
$12 an hour. This follows the company’s refusal over the weekend to extend “decision
bargaining” with the union representing Ft. Edward workers, Local 332 of the United Electrical,
Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) beyond the 60 days mandated by the UE-GE
National Contract.
Despite the union’s best efforts and 17 bargaining sessions over the past two months, the union
says it was clear that GE never intended to seriously negotiate over saving the Ft. Edward plant.
Throughout those 60 days, GE dragged its feet on providing information the union requested and
was legally entitled to; made no effort to involve its business leaders in the bargaining; and made
no proposals to save the plant. GE was just going through the motions to fulfill its legal and
contractual obligations and never seriously considered any alternative to moving to Florida.
Early last week the union made creative proposals to establish a partnership between the union,
GE, and the public to save the plant. The union proposal contained substantial sacrifices – the
loss of almost 10 percent of the union jobs in the plant which would result from modernizing and
automating – as well as $22 million dollars in government financing to keep the plant viable and
operating for the foreseeable future.
GE scoffed at this proposal and told union negotiators that it wanted more than $6 million per
year in labor cost savings in addition to what the union proposed. Based upon that statement, the
union says it was obvious that GE would accept nothing less than a wage cut of $17.88 an hour
for the 163 workers who would have been retained. “GE is extremely profitable in Ft. Edward
and elsewhere and has no justification for insisting that we work for $11.12 per hour,” said Local
332 President Scott Gates.
In Clearwater, GE intends to pay poverty wages of $12 per hour to those it hires as regular
employees and $8 per hour to contingent employees. “Working at poverty wages for this
powerful and extremely profitable corporation, GE’s Clearwater employees will undoubtedly
need to rely on public assistance, food stamps, and other social welfare programs to survive and
feed their families, even as they produce sophisticated electrical devices for a variety of
industrial applications,” said Gates. “The taxpayers of the U.S. and of Florida will once again pay to subsidize the profits of GE, a company that pays next to nothing in taxes.”
The union alleges that GE, which claims to be a good corporate citizen, intends to use public revenues and social programs to soften the blow of its aggressive campaign to slash the wages of its U.S. manufacturing workers and make even greater profits. GE calls its low-wage strategy “the competitive wage.”
“It didn’t have to end up this way,” said Gates. “Our elected officials – especially Governor Cuomo – should have played a prominent role in leading the fight to save these good-paying manufacturing jobs. Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo’s office was nowhere to be found. Despite our repeated efforts to engage him, Mr. Cuomo’s office only agreed to meet with us after the bargaining ended. During one brief phone conversation, a Cuomo staffer threw up his hands and callously told us ‘They want to move to Florida, I can’t stop them.’” Cuomo’s involvement “was much too little and too late,” said Gates.
Based on the union’s exchange with Cuomo’s office, the union believes that GE officials “poisoned the well by telling public officials in September, before bargaining even started, that its plan to move to Clearwater was a done deal.” In doing so, the union says GE’s goal was to prevent public officials from joining in a serious effort to block the move to Florida.
“We wonder whether the Cuomo administration will now also let GE out of its obligation to clean up the Hudson River,” said Gates. “The river was poisoned by GE over 30 years of dumping highly-toxic PCBs from the Ft. Edward and Hudson Falls plants, and GE spent years lying about the harm it did and evading its responsibility. Will the Governor now let GE off the hook for this deliberate environmental disaster, just as he is sitting idly by while GE shuts down a profitable plant that contributes $35 million in annual revenue to the Washington-Warren-Saratoga County area?”
On September 18, GE gave the union a one-year notice, as required by the union contract, of its intention to close Ft. Edward. The parties then began a 60-day period of “decision bargaining”, also mandated by the contract. Through delays, the company frustrated the union’s efforts to obtain information it needed to formulate a response and to propose an alternative plan to keep the plant open while increasing its efficiency and profitability.
Local 332 is today in discussions with the UE national union to develop a comprehensive plan to continue the fight to convince GE to reverse its decision and keep the Ft. Edward plant. “This fight is far from over,” says Scott Gates, the local union president.
For further information, contact Local 332 President Scott Gates at 518-496-8608 or UE Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton at 774-264-0110.