The union that represents workers at General Electric’s Fort Edward plant presented a proposal to GE bargaining officials Tuesday they believe is an alternative to closing the plant and sending its nearly 200 jobs to Clearwater, Fla.
That plan includes a $25 million investment in upgraded equipment that would allow 20 union jobs to be cut through automation and attrition, and a reduction in the footprint of the Fort Edward campus that would save money in the long run.
GE announced in September its intention to close the plant, kicking off a 60-day bargaining period that ends Sunday with UE Local 332, the local division of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America.
“We’re going to meet with them again tomorrow and every day this week and get through this,” said UE Local 332 President Scott Gates on Tuesday.
Union members met Monday night to approve the proposal, and it went before GE officials the next morning. GE spokeswoman Chris Horne said Tuesday the company is reviewing and analyzing the union’s proposal to determine how it compares to the “cost savings and manufacturing synergies” that would come from moving work to Clearwater.
Fort Edward workers also delivered petitions with more than 4,000 signatures to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office Tuesday afternoon, requesting Cuomo and GE CEO Jeff Immelt work with employees to help save the plant from closure.
“This area simply can’t afford this plant closing,” said Gates. “We’re hoping to get the governor engaged with us and the company to help save this factory and this community.”
The first component of the union’s proposal involves an investment in the Fort Edward plant’s equipment, which union officials say dates back to the 1940s. The plant primarily manufactures electrical capacitors.
“If we got some of this new equipment and upgraded technology, we could cut up to 20 jobs and produce a better quality product,” said UE Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton. “The technology would handle certain aspects of the process, from assembly and production to fabrication and heat-treat. It would be a more automated process that requires less people.”
The union is also proposing a reconfiguration of the GE campus in Fort Edward, which is located on Route 4 just a few miles outside Glens Falls. Knowlton said the campus footprint could shrink if people and equipment were simply transferred from one building to another. At its peak, the Fort Edward and nearby Hudson Falls plants employed about 2,500 workers.
“It wouldn’t be hard to fit workers in a smaller space, since it’s a plant that used to have 1,000 people in it and now it’s down to about 200 people,” said Knowlton. “You would move everything from where it is now into another building on the campus that isn’t being utilized properly. The facility where we want to move is one of our cleaner facilities and is in a good spot to consolidate operations. And we would have a much bigger clean room.”
Both proposals would require an initial, one-time investment, he said. But over the long run, he said, they would reduce the per-unit cost of each capacitor and save the company money. He couldn’t say Tuesday exactly how much money the proposal was expected to save, but union officials estimate a $35 million a year loss to the surrounding communities if the factory is shut down.
Knowlton and Gates said they asked GE for a 30-day extension of the bargaining period, but were ignored on several occasions. They wanted more time, they said, because GE officials failed to provide them with financial information on the Fort Edward plant early on in the process that would have helped them make their case against closure.
The union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board in an effort to compel them to provide the information they had requested, but that request was eventually withdrawn. The union could still use more time to refine its proposal, though, Gates said.
“They didn’t give us the information until last week,” he said. “Once they released the information, we rescinded the charge.”
Horne told The Daily Gazette last month GE had responded to “every request for information that is relevant to our intent announcement.” On Tuesday, she said GE has provided relevant information and continues to respond to follow-up requests in a timely manner.
“The additional information provided to the union was on Oct. 31,” she wrote in an email. “It was primarily second and third layers of backup data to previously shared information. While we felt strongly that this data wasn’t relevant or required to be produced, we provided it in an effort to move past the union’s dispute.”
When asked whether GE accepted or rejected the union’s request for a 30-day extension, Horne responded that it’s “preliminary to discuss an extension.”
“Right now, our focus needs to be on the 60-day bargaining period,” she said.