SCHENECTADY — The union representing hourly production workers at General Electric’s Schenectady factory is pushing GE to invest in green power generation on the sprawling campus at the foot of Erie Boulevard.
It says adding wind power turbine production to the gas-fired power equipment now made on site would be good for the company, community and union alike.
Public policy and popular opinion sometimes favor non-polluting power sources. The new jobs that would result from a new production line would help IUE-CWA Local 301 replenish its ranks, which stood at 30,000 a half-century ago and are down to 800 now, only 600 of them at the Schenectady plant itself.
A new television commercial features present-day and historical images of the historic facility, with the faces of some of the production employees now working there.
General Electric in September 2020 said it would stop building new power plants that burn coal, which typically have a large carbon footprint. In response to the union’s public campaign, the company said Monday that its focus on natural gas-fired power plants, which emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, is part of a commitment to reduced carbon emissions.
Christian Gonzalez, a 10-year employee at GE’s Schenectady plant, said he fears for the future of the facility. It has had a steady progression of not just outright job cuts but of moving work to locations where labor is less expensive — either foreign countries or non-union U.S. factories.
“As someone who grew up in Schenectady, we looked up to it all of our lives,” he said. “I got there at 19 years old, [there was] a ton of work. It was awesome, I was very quickly promoted.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to retire there and it won’t be my doing … the workload just isn’t what it used to be.”
Based on the similarities between gas-fired and wind-driven power generation equipment, the union believes wind power would be a relatively easy addition to the production line in Schenectady.
Gonzalez doesn’t think gas power production should end, and doesn’t think it has to.
“I don’t think that completely moving away from existing work is smart. We have the ability to do everything,” he said. “We could make that work logistically.”
Gonzalez also doesn’t think it’s right for GE to take government subsidies and take advantage of tax breaks while slashing jobs or shipping them overseas.
The union says it took its ideas to GE before launching the public awareness campaign.
“We’ve reached out to them over the last few months about this campaign,” Gonzalez said, in hopes of mounting a joint campaign with the company. “They just haven’t wanted to work with us.”
The union has enlisted the support of the Sierra Club and Greenpeace among others in its attempt to push GE to green manufacturing.
GE, for its part, considers gas power an important step to reducing carbon emissions. In a statement Monday, it said:
“GE is proud to be a leader in the energy transition, and our employees in Schenectady and the Capital Region are helping by developing innovative products and technologies that meet the energy challenges of the future. Gas has a pivotal role to play in the future of energy, both by replacing coal with natural gas today, and by pursuing advances in carbon capture and 100% hydrogen combustion to place gas on a near zero carbon path tomorrow.”
GE did not address the idea of building a wind power production line in Schenectady, or the union’s complaint about the company cutting jobs as it receives taxpayer subsidies.
GE’s U.S. onshore wind power operations are based in Schenectady, and have a workforce numbering in the hundreds, but there is no manufacturing on site.
GE did rebut one specific criticism — that it was moving jobs to foreign countries where labor is cheaper — by saying a 2020 decision to cut a few dozen manufacturing jobs in Schenectady and move the work to Poland was not a case of offshoring jobs, as no jobs were added in Poland.