The nearly 200 workers who may lose their jobs at General Electric’s Fort Edward plant aren’t going down without a fight.
After weeks of unproductive bargaining sessions, members of the national and local labor union representing the employees are planning a picket this afternoon at the front gate of the plant on Route 4, just a few miles outside Glens Falls. Labor, community and local elected officials are expected to join in.
“We’re going through a negotiation process, and the early pieces of it have been exploratory,” said Chris Townsend, a representative of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. “We need to look at facts and figures, but the company hasn’t given them to us. Is this a profitable facility? Yes. But the company won’t address that. They just say it’s not competitive.”
GE announced a plan a month ago to close its Fort Edward manufacturing plant and transfer all work to Clearwater, Fla. The move would affect nearly 200 employees, 178 hourly production workers and 20 salaried workers. GE said the plant was “simply not competitive” and said the move would help consolidate GE Energy Management’s electrification business.
UE Local 332, which represents Fort Edward employees, entered into a 60-day bargaining period with GE on Sept. 18. During this time, GE said it would consider any alternative proposals put forth by the union.
But in a Sunday bulletin to its members, the union accused GE of stonewalling most of its requests for information so far.
“In a series of letters to the company, UE Local 332 requested all information that GE possesses on its plan to move our work to Clearwater, Florida,” the bulletin read. “In short, UE needs to review all of the studies, reports, memorandums and all documents that GE used before deciding to make the September 18 announcement. UE leaders told GE that we want all of the same information that its business leaders reviewed when making their decision on our plant. But after five bargaining sessions, GE has failed to provide this information and has only handed over a series of short summary numbers to explain their rationale.”
UE members offered reasons why this lack of information was damaging their ability to make a case.
“It’s like the union is buying the plant,” said UE Northeast Regional President Peter Knowlton in the bulletin. “We need all the information about the plant and company costs so we can construct a proposal which will convince GE to continue operating in Fort Edward.”
GE spokeswoman Chris Horne said the union’s claims it has provided inadequate information are unfounded.
“We have been diligent in responding to every request for information that is relevant to our intent announcement and have answered all relevant questions they have posed,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “The union has the information necessary to engage in productive decision bargaining and to make constructive proposals to the company’s intent announcement.”
So far, she said, the union has yet to make a proposal for the company to consider.
GE has provided some documents and information, the union acknowledged in the bulletin. In a one-page document, GE listed three capacitor orders totaling $35,000 that were lost to Cooper Industries, a Chicago electrical products manufacturer. But the union countered those orders “do not come close to providing real evidence that the plant is non-competitive.”
Horne said the company has communicated regularly with employees about the plant’s lack of competitiveness, well before the intent to close announcement was made.
“It has always been our policy to communicate with employees and union leadership on a regular basis about the issues facing our plant,” she said. “Each quarter we review and discuss volume projections and the performance of the plant. Since 2009, Fort Edward’s manufacturing operations have had negative results 70 percent of the time.”
UE Local 332 President Scott Gates could not be reached Thursday. Townsend, who was on his way to Fort Edward on Thursday, said the bargainers were in the midst of another negotiating session.
“Everyone’s antsy,” he said. “We’ve reached out to the labor community and lawmakers in the region about what they’re trying to do, and the reaction has been universal astonishment.”