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Unionized GE workers to rally in Schenectady

GE Schenectady

Hundreds of unionized General Electric workers from plants around the country are planning to rally Tuesday in Schenectady.

They'll be coming from places like Kentucky, Kansas and Massachusetts, marching from IUE-CWA Local 301 Union Hall at 251 State Street to Schenectady GE. There they’ll rally and demand that the nearly $80 billion company reinvest in American workers, stop alleged illegal union busting, and take immediate action to protect jobs, strengthen pay, ensure retirement security, and cut healthcare costs for its domestic workforce.

Local 301 business agent Christopher DePoalo is a third-generation employee whose family has been working in the Schenectady building since 1937. He says increasing healthcare costs are squeezing workers’ budgets tighter than ever as inflation runs rampant.

“We need healthcare costs to come down," said DePoalo. "I mean, some of our lower tier, it's just so hard to address these healthcare costs. I mean, when I first started, it was, you know, $30 co-pay, and now you're going to the doctor and you're spending $200, you know, just in the first visit, and then you're spending $143 a week on healthcare. It just crushes some of our employees. And the biggest thing I mean, we need to keep these jobs in America. These are essential goods, you know, power supply, military equipment. These jobs need to stay in America.”

According to the Lynn Museum & Historical Society, General Electric began in 1892 when Thomas Edison's Schenectady factory, Edison General Electric, merged with the Thomson-Houston company of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Christopher Moody is a health and safety representative and spot welder, at GE's plant in Lynn, Massachusetts. He tells WAMC he was homeless when he landed a job there three years ago and that GE changed his life. Now he and other workers are asking for better general wage increases.

“They've given us lump sums in the past few years, whereas a general wage increase, that's for life, right? That's going to benefit me over the next 40 years, rather than just a one-time check now," said Moody. "Things like, cost of living adjustments, inflation, as everybody knows, and everyone's feeling it, has really taken off. So the money I made in 2019 isn't spending the same in 2022. So I think if the company really cares about the people that make its products, then you know, that's something we should be improving on.”

With union contracts for thousands of GE workers across the nation set to expire in the summer of 2023, march organizers say GE is pushing a $2.5 billion plan to break up the company.

DePoalo expects Tuesday's gathering will be the largest coordinated, multi-state national action aimed at the industry giant in years.

“I'm hoping this is the biggest one we've ever done," DePoalo said. "I've been out on the floor talking to all the members and handing out flyers. If I get 500 people there I'm gonna be very happy.”

DePoalo says workers will also repeat their demands that GE stop outsourcing and offshoring jobs and commit to ensuring workers will keep the rights they’ve won through collective bargaining when GE eventually splits into three publicly-traded companies focused on healthcare, aerospace and energy.

A spokesperson for General Electric, headquartered in Boston, responded in a statement saying it believes in the importance of American manufacturing.

“GE remains one of the largest manufacturers in the U.S., employing nearly 55,000 U.S. workers," the company said. "We continue to invest in our facilities across the country where we can – having invested over $1 billion in new and upgraded facilities in the last six years, which included upgrades at many of our existing union sites. So far in 2022, we've added 50 new manufacturing jobs to our Schenectady site and are hiring for another 25 roles by the end of the year.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.