Union unable to save GE jobs in Fort Edward
Deadline passes to stop plant’s move to Florida
FORT EDWARD Efforts to keep 200 General Electric manufacturing jobs from being moved to Florida have failed, according to local union leaders.
Two months ago, GE officials announced their intent to shut down the company’s electrical capacitor plant in Fort Edward, sending production and the facility’s nearly 200 jobs to Clearwater, Fla.
Scott Gates, president of Local 332 of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, has been in negotiations with the company ever since, proposing money-saving measures to keep the plant open. But the 60-day negotiation period ended Sunday with no agreement, he said.
“We had a solid proposal,” Gates said. “We showed them how they could save a lot of money, but they didn’t listen.”
The union proposed to keep the plant open by promising GE greater efficiency through a partnership with the state and union workers. Gates’ plan involved condensing operations into a smaller factory footprint to lower overhead costs and investing in automated machinery.
GE spokeswoman Chris Horne said the company has yet to make a final formal decision regarding the plant.
“We’re reviewing the specifics of the [union] proposal,” she said.
While Horne wouldn’t comment on the likelihood of the plant closing, an official GE statement she drafted following the end of negotiations bodes poorly for the plant.
“As it stands,” she said in the statement, “the union’s proposal falls well short of achieving the savings and efficiencies that would be generated by the proposed move to Clearwater.”
Gates said the plant will close. After 17 fruitless meetings, he said GE officials never kept an open mind.
“We had hoped they would be open to negotiating with us,” he said. “They weren’t.”
Gates said his union team wasn’t provided with enough information to draft their proposal until less than two weeks before the close of discussions. He said they were also turned down for a 30-day extension.
In the end, Gates said the union proposal fell $6 million short of keeping capacitor manufacturing from heading south.
GE has an existing facility in Clearwater, and Horne said combining operations would save the company significant money over the years. To hit that savings benchmark, Gates said the 177 workers he represents would have been required to take a huge pay cut, from an average $28 per hour to just $11.
“And this isn’t a poor company,” he said. “This is GE. It’s their unrelenting greed motivating this move.”
By contract, the plant will remain in operation through at least September 2014. After that, Gates said all 200 employees will be looking for other work.
“Fort Edward will be a ghost town,” he said, “but there is a life after GE.”