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GE Considering Closure Of Fort Edward Plant

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Close to 200 workers in Fort Edward are facing layoffs after General  Electric announced that it is considering a shutdown of an upstate manufacturing facility, unless an otherwise agreement is reached with the union representing employees.

GE Energy Management has announced that it intends to move all manufacturing operations from its Fort Edward plant to a facility in Clearwater, Florida. The move would close the Fort Edward plant, and 198 employees could be affected.

“This is not a final decision however the intent announcement is subject to a 60-day decision bargaining period with the local union and during that time the company will consider any alternative proposals that are presented to us  by the union," said Chris Horne, a spokeswoman for General Electric.

Horne said that the company will work with United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the union that represents 178 of the staffers facing layoffs.

"If GE decides after that 60 day decision bargaining period to go forward with the closure, the closure of the facility would occur no sooner than one year from the date of our announcement," said Horne.

The plant would close no sooner than September 19th, 2014.

Gene Elk, a spokesman for United Electrical Workers, said the jobs GE could potentially cut are well salaried, and could have a devastating effect on the local economy.

"These are people who have decent jobs who will have a very rough time if the company gets away with its plan getting jobs that are as good as these jobs," said Elk.

General Electric has operated its facility in Fort Edward since 1947. The plant manufactures electrical capacitors. Elk had harsh words for General Electric, which, until the 1970s, released PCBs into the Hudson River from its Fort Edward and neighboring Hudson Falls facilities. The release of the believed-to-be cancer causing materials was not made illegal until the federal government took action in 1976.

"The imagery of this is outrageous and its almost as if the company scripted it," said Elk.  "They're going to Clearwater and they're leaving behind the Hudson River which they polluted for the last 30 years and dumping the workers onto the street just like they dumped PCBs into the river."

Elk said his union would do "everything in its power" to stop the plant's closure.
Peter Aust, president and CEO of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, said that in additon to the families of the 198 workers facing layoffs, the local economy would take a hit, too.

Aust said he’s hopeful some sort of bargaining agreement could delay, if not halt, the cuts.

"We're hopeful that the union and the communications that we are currently having with General Electric will potentially stave off this closure, or at least delay it significantly enough that we can plan for job retraining and having these people find jobs immediately in the community again to minimize any sort of economic impact that it has," said Aust.

In an email, General Electric reported that the Fort Edward facility continues to be “non-competitve in our product lines over the past few years. Competitors are using their cost advantage, including lower labor and operation costs, to grow in the capacitor business, making it difficult for GE Energy management to sustain its business operations in Ft. Edward.”

Spokeswoman Chris Horne said the potential closure is not based upon employee performance, and she said that GE remains committed to upstate New York.

"If you look at what's happening over in Schenectady, for example, we have a steam turbine and generator manufacturing operation and an advanced battery manufacturing facility," said Horne. "Between those two facilities we've added close to 700 production employees since 2011."

Horne also mentioned expansion at a GE Healthcare manufacturing facility in Troy.

GE said if its plan to close its Fort Edward facility remains, it will assist employees find new positions within the company and will also provide comprehensive benefits to those affected by the closure.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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