It’s official: After nearly 70 years in Fort Edward, General Electric will close up shop and move its local manufacturing operations to Florida next year.
Nearly 200 employees will be displaced. The union given the task of fighting for their jobs has accused GE — which announced its final decision Thursday — of never really considering an alternative to closure despite public comments otherwise.
“From the get-go, this was nothing but a shakedown on their part,” said UE Local 332 President Scott Gates of GE bargaining officials. “They were never serious about negotiating with us. People kept asking us, ‘The company is closing you down. What are you still fighting for?’ Well, we couldn’t just give up, could we? We were fighting for our jobs.”
The Fort Edward plant on Route 4 just outside of Glens Falls manufactures electrical capacitors. GE’s plan is to move all capacitor manufacturing operations to a new “Center of Excellence” facility in Clearwater, Fla.
The 178 hourly production workers and 20 salaried staff in Fort Edward were informed of the decision Thursday and will be offered comprehensive severance benefits or job opportunities within the company where there are any. The plant will close no sooner than September 2014.
GE announced its intent Sept. 18 to close the Fort Edward manufacturing plant, kicking off a 60-day bargaining window with the local division of United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America. On Thursday, GE spokeswoman Chris Horne flatly denied any accusation that the company was never serious about negotiations.
“Those accusations are false and completely unfounded,” she said.
During the bargaining window, both parties sat down to negotiate 17 times. The UE Local 332 also hosted several rallies in protest of the plan, accused GE of stonewalling its requests for information and put forth a proposal it said would allow GE to keep the plant open and profitable. This plan included a reduction in the campus footprint and a $25 million initial investment in upgraded equipment that would allow 20 union jobs to be cut through automation and attrition.
The 60-day window closed Sunday, with GE ultimately deciding the union’s proposal “fell well short of the savings and efficiencies that would be generated by the proposed move to Clearwater,” according to a company statement released Thursday.
“The Fort Edward site has been losing money for several years, and it has been difficult to win orders in an extremely challenging marketplace,” the statement read. “To be competitive, GE Energy Management must reduce its costs. This was a difficult decision, and we fully understand the impact it has on our employees, their families and the community. The decision is not a reflection on the diligent efforts of our Fort Edward employees, who have worked with us to make the business more competitive. Regrettably, those efforts have not delivered the cost reductions needed to position the business for the future.”
Horne said the company was “very specific” about the savings and efficiencies GE Energy Management wanted to achieve and provided very detailed feedback on why the union’s proposal fell short.
Because of confidentiality reasons, both the union and GE declined to comment on the specific dollar figure GE was looking to save. But Gates described it as “very disturbing” and said the union would have needed to accept significant wage concessions to achieve it.
In a news release issued Thursday, UE Local 332 said the company plans to pay “poverty wages of $8 to $12 an hour” in Clearwater.
Horne declined to comment on wages, citing the company’s policy of not disclosing wages for competitive reasons.
“We needed to improve our overall cost structure to be competitive — wages are only one element of that cost structure,” she said. “The creation of a manufacturing Center of Excellence in Clearwater will provide savings in many areas, including manufacturing synergies, economies of scale and efficiencies of shared support teams.”
Still, the union was convinced it could have saved the plant from closure if GE had agreed to extend the bargaining period for another 30 days.
“Throughout those 60 days, GE dragged its feet on providing information the union requested and was legally entitled to, made no effort to involve its business leaders in the bargaining and made no proposals to save the plant,” read a news release issued Thursday by the union. “GE was just going through the motions to fulfill its legal and contractual obligations and never seriously considered any alternative to moving to Florida.”
GE has been in Fort Edward since 1947. Until 1977, the company discharged into the nearby Hudson River about 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that were used as coolants in electrical equipment. The company was ordered in 2002 to clean up contaminated sediment through a massive dredging project. GE on Thursday said it will continue this project.
“GE will continue its environmental remediation work on the plant site and will meet its environmental commitments to New York state,” the company said.