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Op-ed column: Column attacking GE was erroneous, mean-spirited

Sunday, May 6, 2012
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As a 14-year Capital Region resident and GE employee, I was stunned by L.D. Davidson’s unsubstantiated and error-filled attack on the company (“That’s a lot of chutzpah!” April 29). It is an insult to the men and women of GE, who live and work here and are proud members of both the company and the community.

Regrettably, Davidson ridicules their support for the Schoharie Little League as a “cynical public relations ploy.” These were just GE people stepping up to help their neighbors, as we have for more than 100 years in this community. To ridicule their good will is mean-spirited, and publishing such an attack is unworthy of your newspaper.

The Schoharie Little League project is just one of many grass-roots employee initiatives that my colleagues have supported since the devastating floods hit this region last fall. They have been leading projects, running collections and volunteering their time throughout this crisis. The donation our company made to the Little League was only a portion of the total dollars that we directed to the greater Schoharie community.

In fact, our company contributes more than $5 million annually in the Capital Region to support such causes as education, health-care and community services. Our goal is to drive the quality and vitality of our region as a pre-eminent place for our families, friends and neighbors to call home. We strive to do this in GE communities around the world and have a great track record of which to be proud.

In addition, GE volunteers in the Capital Region provided 57,000 hours of community service in 2011. My colleagues also play leadership roles on the boards of many local charities and not-for-profits and use their professional skills to help such organizations.

I would also like to address some of the errors and misrepresentations in the column:

• Davidson writes that if GE were really a good company its lawyers would do pro bono work to help people in need. In fact, our company is a founding member of the Pro Bono Partnership, a group of companies whose lawyers provide free legal services. More than half of GE’s U.S.-based lawyers do pro bono work, including in the Capital Region.

• Davidson referred to the fact that GE no longer employs 40,000 locally. But he ignores the fact that our company recently built two new manufacturing plants in the Capital Region, expanded our Global Research Center in Niskayuna, based our global renewable energy headquarters in Schenectady, and added 1,400 local jobs. Across the U.S., we are building 16 new manufacturing facilities, adding more than 14,000 high-value jobs.

• Davidson’s assertion that GE reduced its retiree health obligations by 23 percent since 2009 is simply untrue, with most of our plans steady or experiencing slight decreases. GE continues to cover more than 200,000 retirees and dependents with competitive benefits, including more than 16,000 retirees in the Capital Region.

• GE did not force employees to retire. That would be illegal.

• GE did not refuse to clean up PCBs from the Housatonic or Hudson rivers. On the Hudson, for example, GE participated in a public process overseen by EPA to determine what to do about PCBs in the river. When the agency decided in 2002 to dredge the river, we mobilized immediately to conduct the massive project and have met every obligation to the EPA.

• GE paid significant U.S. taxes in 2009 and 2010. Our rates were low those years because we lost $32 billion in our financial businesses during the global financial crisis. Our 2011 tax rates were 29 percent globally and 25 percent in the U.S. Last year in the Capital Region, we paid more than $18 million in local school and property taxes alone.

GE is a good company, powered by good people who support their communities in many ways. I am proud to be a GE employee and I am surrounded by colleagues who feel the same.

We are equally proud of being active and supportive members of the Capital Region community. We won’t be defined by someone who doesn’t know us and a newspaper unwilling to check the facts.

Jim Healy lives in Ballston Lake and is communications director for GE Energy. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

 
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