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Battery plant deal may be close

Battery plant deal may be close

The General Electric Co. plans to build a $100 million advanced battery manufacturing plant at the G

The General Electric Co. plans to build a $100 million advanced battery manufacturing plant at the GE Energy campus in Schenectady, the company announced to local workers and union leaders.

Officials from the company said they are in the process of ratifying an agreement with IUE-CWA Local 301 — the union representing workers at the GE Energy and Global Research Center — that would ensure existing jobs in Schenectady in addition to creating 350 new positions at the planned sodium-storage battery plant. The agreement includes a provision for temporary layoffs as required by business volume but assures that there will be no permanent hourly work force reductions through June 2011, when the union’s contract expires.

“This is really an unprecedented agreement that both protects jobs and creates new ones in the face of significant volume issues that could affect our main operations,” said Chris Horne, a spokeswoman for the company.

The agreement does extend a plant shutdown next summer and schedules another during Thanksgiving. However, Horne said, these are elements that are part of the plan to ensure job growth under difficult economic circumstances.

“We are all working together to figure out how we can reduce costs as we face this economic downturn globally,” she said Saturday.

Numerous calls to Local 301 Business Agent Carmen DePoalo Saturday were not returned. Other ranking officers from the union did not respond to calls for comment.

The company indicated the union will consider the agreement next week. GE officials regard the agreement as a critical component in selecting Schenectady for the new battery facility.

County and city officials are cautiously optimistic about a tentative agreement and plans to locate the plant in Schenectady. Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said Schenectady County has lobbied hard for the project and was pleased to hear the plant was included in GE’s discussions with the union.

“The fact that they’re going to their unionized work force is a very positive sign they’re seriously looking at Schenectady County for the project,” he said.

Susan Savage, the chairwoman of the county Legislature, was also guarded in her optimism. But she said the county does appear to be on the verge of winning the project after courting GE for more than nine months.

“We have worked in a very coordinated and focused way to respond to the company’s detailed specifications for this project,” she said in a statement released Saturday. “And we have submitted a very solid proposal.”

GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt announced the company’s intentions to build the 210,000-square-foot sodium storage battery plant in May but didn’t specify where. Various communities and economic development entities have since aggressively sought the project, which is estimated for completion in 2011.

County and city officials both regard the battery plant as a project that could have an impact similar to the GlobalFoundries factory, which broke ground last week at the Luther Forest Technology Park in Malta.

Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton said landing the project would represent a further mending of the rift that developed between GE and the city during the 1990s.

“It would be a huge investment and a huge win for Schenectady County,” he said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity.”

The battery plant would be GE’s third major investment in the Capital Region. The company is spending $31 million to renovate Building 53 at the Erie Campus for the renewable energy headquarters and $3 million for a digital X-ray equipment manufacturing facility in North Greenbush.

The company’s contract with the union and the clause about hiring workers from Local 301 hasn’t been ratified. Some see it as a component that will start into motion a series of steps toward a final decision.

“Obviously, we’re not there yet,” Stratton said. “There are other steps that need to be taken and the union membership needs to vote on this.”

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