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Union Vows To Continue Fighting GE Decision To Close Fort Edward Plant

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General Electric has announced that it will shutter its Fort Edward plant, but the union representing employees says it will fight its members’ jobs. 

GE Energy Management released a statement on Thursday saying that it has notified its employees that the company has reached its final decision to close its Fort Edward plant and relocate its capacitor manufacturing operations to a new facility in Clearwater, Florida. The Fort Edward plant employs around 200 workers and has been in operation since the late 1940s. It is scheduled to close in September 2014, one year after GE’s initial proposal to close the plant.

The decision was made after a 60-day bargaining period with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 332.

In a statement, GE says:

Throughout the bargaining process we answered the union leadership’s questions and described Ft. Edward’s difficult competitive situation.  The proposal submitted by the union fell well short of the savings and efficiencies that would be generated by the proposed move to Clearwater – savings that are critical to the future of the business.

GE added that the Fort Edward facility “has been losing money for several years”

Gene Elk, a spokesman for the union, said that the fight is not over, and that UE will be pressuring GE in all its capacity.

“From political pressure, to pressure to clean up the site, from pressure to go around to General Electric company locations to protest this action, to working with other unions who we bargain jointly with, to ramp up the pressure throughout the country – this is outrageous,” said Elk. “The only reason the company is doing this is to get a 65 percent wage cut in Florida.”

The union said that it had planned to sacrifice 10 percent of the union jobs at the Fort Edward plant to account for costs associated with modernizing and updating the plant, as well as $22 million in government financing to the keep the plant in operation.

The union said GE rejected the proposal, and requested an additional $6 million in labor cost savings.

Elk said it was unsatisfactory that a staff member from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration did not meet with union until after the 60-day bargaining period had ended.

A statement emailed from the governor’s press office after a request from WAMC after bargaining had closed reads:

"The Governor's office and relevant  state agencies have been in active and continuous discussions with GE and the union.  We've made it clear to all parties that we will continue to engage and hope that they can reach an amicable resolution for the residents of the region and the company.

Ed Bartholomew, President of EDC Warren County, said that he had been in communication with  Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy prior to the plant’s announced closure, and that EDC Warren County will be working with state agencies to see how lost jobs can be replaced.

Bartholomew said that he is deeply disappointed to see 200 high-paying jobs lost, but also said that the greater Warren County area is “resilient” and that he hopes some of the other manufacturing companies in the area may value some of the GE workers’ skills.

Bartholomew also said that the Fort Edward site poses potential for redevelopment once it is remediated by General Electric.

“General Electrict has a total of approximately 34 acres of where the plant is located and they are under requirements to clean that property by the state and federal government. And certainly once the property is cleaned to a correct level, we will be engaged in trying to have that property conveyed to a local development corporation for future growth, and for future generations to have some jobs in the Fort Edward area.”

GE has said it remains committed to its environmental remediation work at the plant.

Other local officials had also expressed their disappointment in the loss of jobs during the bargaining period. U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand had released statements hoping for a resolution.

Union spokesman Gene Elk says UE’s focus now is changing the minds of General Electric.

It’s not over we’re not ready to focus on preferential placement right now.”

GE said in its statement that it “remains committed to the Capital Region where we have more than 7,000 employees.  In the last several years, GE has created more than 1,600 new jobs, invested nearly half a billion dollars, and hired more than 450 manufacturing employees locally.”

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