SCHENECTADY — Hundreds of General Electric union workers are expected to protest outside the company’s Schenectady plant on Tuesday to call for higher wages, reductions in healthcare costs and the elimination of job outsourcing.
The IUE-CWA, the nation’s largest union of General Electric (GE) workers, is gathering workers from New York, Massachusetts and as far away as Kansas and Kentucky to participate in the Oct. 25 rally, which will commence at the union headquarters on State Street at 11:30 a.m., with a subsequent march to the River Road plant.
The rally will be held in advance of forthcoming negotiations next summer between the union and GE with union contracts set to expire next year.
“We just want a fair contract,” IUE-CWA Local 301 Business Agent Christopher DePoalo said on Friday. “We’ve paid the price here with inflation and people are really feeling it. So we want it to address inflation and we want people to understand that us providing these essential jobs here in America are going to support the community. We’re trying to build relationships with the community and we want some of them to come out and support us. The more jobs we have here, the more we can feed these smaller businesses.”
On Oct. 5, GE announced that it plans to reduce its domestic onshore wind workforce, eliminating hundreds of jobs nationwide. DePoalo said the Schenectady workforce is concerned that layoffs could hit the local plant.
“We’re always worried about job cuts and them moving jobs overseas,” he said of GE. “The onshore wind, I feel so bad for those people. We’ve had some people leave our facility to go to those onshore wind jobs and they just got laid off.”
In September, IUE-CWA workers in Lynn, Mass. secured a pay raise for workers at the GE Aviation plant and workers from the Massachusetts-based 201 union will join their Schenectady counterparts in solidarity on Tuesday, along with southern and midwestern workers.
“We’re part of a conference board and we all support each other,” DePoalo said. “Earlier this year I went out to Boston and supported Lynn (workers) in their rally out there. We just support each other. That’s part of being part of a union, it’s a family. When we asked them to come support us and they show up, it shows the local membership down here that we’re part of a bigger group and we have a large support system.”
In November, the company announced plans to break off into three district companies beginning next year, with separate power, healthcare and aviation businesses. While the company announced at the time that there are no anticipated job cuts at the Schenectady plan, DePoalo said the company’s splintering adds to worker uncertainty.
“That’s one of the reasons we have the other locals coming in,” he said. “This might be our last contract together with the conference board. After the split, we’ll become Verona Power and they would become aviation and healthcare. So we’d be splitting into three different businesses and that will have an effect on how we represent our membership. If we don’t have our conference board, it softens our numbers.”
According to GE, the company plans to continue investing in the future of the Schenectady plant.
“As one of America’s oldest and most innovative companies, GE believes in the importance of American manufacturing,” a GE spokesman said on Friday. “GE remains one of the largest manufacturers in the U.S., employing nearly 55,000 U.S. workers. We continue to invest in our facilities across the country where we can – having invested over $1 billion in new and upgraded facilities in the last six years, which included upgrades at many of our existing union sites. So far in 2022, we’ve added 50 new manufacturing jobs to our Schenectady site and are hiring for another 25 roles by the end of the year.”
The IUE-CWA protest comes on the heels of a petition filed by the Utility Workers Union of America in an attempt to organize 135 GE Renewable Energy wind turbine workers who work across the nation for GE.
“We’re all part of the labor movement,” DePoalo said. “The more union facilities that we can organize, the stronger we’ll be. Offshore wind is something we want to bring in here by the port. We’ve been right here in Schenectady for 128 years and we can build anything. I feel like we have the strongest workforce in the world with our skill set.”
In 2019, the union voted down a prospective contract in order to extract more concessions at the bargaining table in subsequent negotiations and DePoalo, a third-generation GE employee, said the union plans to stand strong in the 2023 talks.
“We’ve felt the pressure from the company and now we’re getting loud again to let them know we’re coming back for a fair contract and we’re willing to fight for it,” he said.
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