DUANESBURG — A half-dozen General Electric retirees meet once a month for lunch, and one subject is a constant: their pensions.
“I thought GE was a company that couldn’t fail,” said former foreman Bob Mau, who had been with the company for 39 years.
At Jonathan’s Pizza off Route 20 on Wednesday, the group of former management totaled more than two centuries of work between them at GE. Having just heard the news of GE being dropped from the Dow Jones Industrial Average of blue-chip stocks, Michael S. Martin, a former material resource planner on the factory floor in Schenectady, found the decision to be just the latest in a long line of disappointments in the company lately.
“I survived the layoffs of the ’70s, I survived the layoffs of the ’80s, I survived the age discrimination layoffs of the ’90s … and then after that, it was kind of like, I’m old, and they’re not gonna get rid of me,” Martin said.
When Martin finally retired, he said he meticulously removed every single GE lightbulb and appliance from his home.
“I say I’m the most bitter,” he said. “I removed every GE lightbulb, and bought Sylvania. I removed every GE appliance — and I will never buy a GE appliance ever again.”
“No wonder our stock is down!” chimed in Harold Burnham, another former material resource planner.
All of the retirees at Jonathan’s described a pattern of cutbacks in compensation and benefits throughout the end of the 20th century and early 2000s before they retired. All of them owned GE stock at one point, but now only Mau is holding onto any shares.
“It’s because I’m stupid,” Mau joked. “With [former-CEO Jeff] Immelt, poor management, poor management all the way around. It’s not the people that work there, it wasn’t their fault. It was top management that took GE down.”
Roy King, also a former foreman, pointed to the corporation’s decision to stop adjusting pay for inflation as a harbinger for the current state of affairs.
“It affects the community too, not just a few individuals, but the whole damn community,” King said of the pattern of cutbacks that led up to the Dow Jones development.
When former material resource planner Mike Buonanno found out about GE being dropped from the Dow, it struck him as ironic that a skilled labor shortage in the region and across the country is happening as GE struggles.
“I was on the apprentice program [at GE] back when they had an apprentice program, and they groomed everybody,” he said. “They learned how to operate machinery. Then from there, some of us stayed in the shop, some of us went up into lower management, and we had the pulse of the business. We knew how it really worked. They did away with the apprentice program … Now all of the sudden they want to bring it back? I mean, come on.”
When asked why he self-identifies as the most bitter GE retiree among the group, Martin lamented a disregard for the workers on the floor in favor of executive compensation.
“[Corporate management] is tellin’ ya, ‘Things are tough, things are tough,'” Martin said. “And then you watch the people at the top, and you see in the papers and on the news what they’re [earning], and you say to yourself, things aren’t that tough. So that’s one of the things that influenced my bitterness.”
The retirees were nostalgic for a bustling downtown Schenectady during GE’s peak presence in the region, and said that the downtown has rebounded not because of, but in spite of GE management’s decisions toward the end of the 20th century.
“In 1974, [Schenectady] was pretty much bouncin’,” King said. “Downtown was bustling, the bars were busy.”
The nadir, according to the group, was in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when outsourcing and layoffs decimated the labor force at the former headquarters. Some, like Buonanno, were laid off and subsequently returned.
They acknowledged that the economy has changed, and self-described company men like them are now the exception rather than the rule. Despite many of their grievances with the company, most of them said that if they could go back in time, they would choose to work for GE again, even knowing what they know now.
Martin, however, considered himself to be an exception.
“I have one word for GE: sucks.”