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Union to fight GE plan to close Fort Edward plant

Facility ‘not competitive,’ work to be moved to Florida

September 18, 2013
Updated 7:27 p.m.
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— A local union is decrying a plan by General Electric to close its Fort Edward manufacturing plant and transfer all work to Florida.

The move would affect nearly 200 local employees, including 178 hourly production workers and 20 salaried staff.

“The Fort Edward operation is simply not competitive,” said GE spokeswoman Chris Horne, who stressed the decision is far from final.

UE Local 332, which has represented plant employees for 70 years, has 10 days to formally request a 60-day bargaining period with GE. During that time, GE will consider any alternative proposals by the union.

“This hurts 200 families of GE employees and many more families in our community,” said Local 332 President Scott Gates in a news release posted to its website Wednesday. “It will have a devastating effect on small businesses in our area, costing many more people their jobs, reducing local services, harming a lot of people.”

The Fort Edward plant, located a few miles outside Glens Falls, manufactures electrical capacitors. At its peak, the Fort Edward and nearby Hudson Falls plants employed about 2,500 workers, but Fort Edward has seen a decline in the volume of GE’s core product lines, said Horne. Competitors have lower labor and operational costs in the capacitor business than GE, she said, making Fort Edward’s operation unsustainable in the long run.

If GE decides to move ahead with the closure after the bargaining period ends, the move wouldn’t happen for at least a year.

“We will fight this with whatever it takes,” said Gates. “We will reach out to the community, to elected officials, to other unions, and we will fight to save these jobs. We have to fight this with all we’ve got — there are too many lives at stake.”

The idea is to move all capacitor manufacturing operations to a new Center of Excellence facility in Clearwater, Fla. The facility currently makes low- and medium-voltage transformers. Moving capacitor work there would help consolidate GE Energy Management’s electrification business.

“Part of our GE Energy Management strategy is to create these manufacturing centers where we can leverage consolidated resources, maximize efficiencies and become more cost competitive,” said Horne.

GE would provide comprehensive benefits to Fort Edward employees and, to the extent possible, work closely with them to explore further job opportunities at GE. In addition, Horne stressed the move is not a sign manufacturing is on the decline for GE. The multinational conglomerate has invested more than $400 million and created about 1,600 new jobs in the Capital Region in the last four years, she said.

“This intent to close is not a reflection of the Fort Edward workforce,” said Horne. “The workforce has partnered with the business on initiatives to make us more competitive. However, there are limits to how impactful those actions can be within our current operating structure.”

The national United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America has come out against the impending move, as well. UE President Bruce Klipple said the organization will back the local union “100 percent” to keep the jobs local.

He added earlier actions by GE at the Fort Edward-Hudson Falls site caused one of the biggest scandals in the company’s history.

“GE dumped PCBs into the Hudson River from this plant site,” he said. “Now with this announcement, they’re telling us that they intend to dump the workers who made the company successful, as well as their families and their community, again for the sake of bigger profits. We can’t let them get away with it.”

 
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