FORT EDWARD -- Nearly 200 jobs at the General Electric Co. plant on Route 4 are in jeopardy after the company informed employees of its intent to move electrical capacitor production to Clearwater, Fla., next year in meetings Wednesday.
“This is not a final decision,” company spokeswoman Chris Horne said Wednesday. “The proposed closure is subject to a 60-day decision bargaining period with UE Local 332.”
If there is no change during the bargaining period, the plant could close as soon as Sept. 19, 2014, she said.
Scott Gates, president of Local 332 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said the union was “blindsided” by the announcement. Gates said his union has 177 production workers at the plant. Horne said there are 20 salaried employees at the plant.
“We will fight this with whatever it takes,” Gates said. “We will reach out to the community, to elected officials, to other unions, and we will fight to save these jobs. We have to fight this with all we’ve got — there are too many lives at stake.”
Ed Bartholomew, president of EDC of Warren County, said he will call a meeting of local economic development groups and government officials to form a response and plan in case the plant closes. No date has been set for the meeting.
Horne said the proposed closure is part of General Electric Energy Management’s focus on establishing “Centers of Excellence” around the country.
She said there are plans to move other manufacturing facilities to Clearwater to reduce costs by taking advantage of the buildings, engineers, human resources and other departments already there.
“There’s a lot of anger here,” said Mark Rock, chief shop steward for the union. “There’s sadness and frustration. This was a shock. They told the salaried employees just before they told the production workers.”
Gates added: “It’s pretty dismal. People are upset around here. We are a dedicated workforce.
“This is corporate greed and union-busting. Not for nothing, but that facility in Clearwater is a non-union site. There is no need to do this other than greed from GE,” he said.
Both Rock and Gates said the impact of closing the plant would devastate the local economy.
“I think people do not know the kind of money the workers here put into the community,” said Rock, who has been at the plant eight years.
Gates said production workers make an average of $26.50 to $27 per hour.
“This hurts 200 families of GE workers and many more families in the community,” Gates said. “It will have a devastating effect on small businesses in our area, costing more people their jobs, reducing local services, harming a lot of people.”
At one time, the Fort Edward plant and another in Hudson Falls employed 2,500 people, according to the union, which said the plant has been profitable for GE.
“This is not a reflection on the Fort Edward workforce. It’s important to note that,” Horne said. “The workforce has partnered with the business on initiatives to make us more competitive.”
According to the national contract between GE and the union, the proposed closure is subject to a 60-day bargaining period, and the union’s press release said the union will request those negotiations.
Gates, who has been at the plant 10 years, said he does not have high hopes for the negotiations.
“We have the chance to present them with information on how to save money and save jobs,” he said. “But GE never changes their mind once they make an announcement. We don’t know what they want. We live by the contract. We negotiate it, sign it and shake hands. We expect the same.”
Gates said the contract runs through June 19, 2015.
Horne said the local plant “continues to be non-competitive in our core product offerings,” and that has led to lower production. She said competitors are using lower labor and operational costs to grow in the capacitor business.
A capacitor is a device that maintains efficient power flow during electrical transmission.
The national president of the union weighed in with a published statement which blasted GE.
“The company’s announcement is an outrage,” Bruce Klipple said. “Local 332 has our backing 100 percent as we fight to keep these jobs in Fort Edward.”
Klipple went on to compare the decision with GE’s history of pollution of the Hudson River.
“GE dumped PCBs into the Hudson River from this plant site,” he said, noting that between 1947 and 1977, the company discharged 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls into the river.
“Now with this announcement, they’re telling us that they intend to dump the workers who made the company successful, as well as their families and their community, again for the sake of bigger profits.” he added. “We can’t let them get away with it.”