GUEST COLUMN: Will GE seize the opportunity to reinvest in Schenectady?

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From an early age, kids in Schenectady are taught how significant General Electric is to our community. From the science and development competitions they hosted for students, to the 2017 investment the company made in the school district’s Mobile Technology Lab, General Electric was always thought of as a partner to our community and an excellent place to work.

Once upon a time, everyone in Schenectady knew if you got a job offer at GE, you took it.

So when I found out they were hiring, I left college at the age of 19 and began my career at General Electric.

At first, I felt confident that I had made the right choice.

Since then, I’ve spent years watching our manufacturing work leave, seeing my dedicated colleagues lose their jobs and dealing with the constant stress of impending layoffs.

Now, I’m fearful that the job that has given me a start in life could soon be gone.

GE recently announced that the company will divide itself into three separate, public divisions.

CEO Larry Culp stated that “each can benefit from greater focus, tailored capital allocation, and strategic flexibility to drive long-term growth and value for customers, investors, and employees.”

GE Schenectady workers have already made it clear to GE that what they will benefit from is investment: investment into our workforce, our hollowed plants, good-paying union jobs, and the green technologies of the future.

General Electric was founded in Schenectady over 120 years ago, and I have the privilege of working alongside second-, third- and even fourth-generation GE workers every day.

Countless Schenectady families are responsible for GE’s past and present, and we are fighting to be a part of its future.

Workers like me built this company and made it an American icon, yet GE has thus far refused to repay our loyalty with the investment we deserve.

In 1970, GE employed about 30,000 unionized hourly workers. Today, our numbers are less than 800.

The impacts of GE’s disinvestment, de-unionization, and offshoring of its domestic manufacturing operations have devastated the upstate community.

Once a thriving industrial city, Schenectady today is struggling, just like countless other communities across this country that corporations like General Electric have left behind.

In recent years, GE has shuttered plants in Virginia, Ohio, Georgia, Arkansas and South Dakota.

Its domestic workforce has plummeted from 277,000 in 1989, with 29 percent of those workers unionized, to just 70,000 in 2019 – less than 10 percent currently protected by a union contract.

Wind power is a critical growth industry and GE is one of the largest wind turbine makers in the world.

Despite being launched in Schenectady back in 2011 with the support of a multi-million dollar federal grant and a suite of tax breaks, GE Renewable Energy is now headquartered abroad.

New York state is currently in the process of launching one of the largest offshore wind projects in the country.

My GE coworkers and I in Schenectady are calling on GE to do the right thing: end its campaign of US divestment and become a Build Back Better industry leader by reinvesting in unionized domestic manufacturing.

Whether GE is one company or three, it must make investing in Schenectady a priority.

Plants like ours are how America was built. The work we do is as essential as ever and is part of a profitable global movement toward clean energy.

As America seeks to Build Back Better and as GE prepares for its new chapter, we, the skilled workers of General Electric, stand ready to meet this moment.

Christian Gonzalez is a 10-year employee of General Electric in Schenectady and a member of IUE-CWA local 81301.

Categories: Guest Column, Opinion

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