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GE

GE closing delayed yet again

Saturday is last day for most workers, but 20 will stay on for months

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General Electric plant

The General Electric plant in Fort Edward is seen. The company announced it has delayed its closure. The new closing date is on or before April 16, according to GE.

FORT EDWARD  General Electric’s plant in Fort Edward is so busy that the company has given up trying to close it on time.

The most recent closing date was set for this weekend — Saturday specifically — but after months of paying workers overtime to try to finish their jobs in the apparently booming capacitor business, General Electric Co. officials decided to postpone the closing.

They have reached agreements with 20 workers, who will stay to complete the work. They’ll probably work at the plant for the next three months.

The new closing date is on or before April 16, according to GE. Then the company will switch all operations to its new capacitor manufacturing plant in Clearwater, Florida, where workers have been hired with far lower salaries and the company has been offered generous tax breaks.

For 104 workers in Fort Edward, Saturday will be their last paid day. They worked on parts of the assembly line that are no longer needed.

But the new plant can’t yet handle all of the tasks involved in building capacitors. So testers will remain in Fort Edward, performing electrical checks on capacitors after they are built in Clearwater, Florida.

That means GE is taking on huge shipping costs, said union leader Paul Rosati.

GE must ship the capacitors — large, heavy machines usually sent by truck — back to Fort Edward for the testing.

“Ship ‘em here, then ship ‘em back,” Rosati said. “It’s an area they don’t have operational down there yet. Actually there’s a few areas they don’t have operational yet, but they’ve just decided to sink or swim.”

The problem fits with problems union workers reported last month. They described a chaotic and expensive closing.

Work done in Clearwater, Florida, had to be sent back to Fort Edward and redone correctly. Items still needed at the Fort Edward plant were sent to Clearwater early, so capacitors had to sit on the floor for weeks, waiting for materials to be sent back. Some capacitors were sent back and forth — at huge shipping costs — so that half the work could be done at each location.

Adding to the cost was the labor contract. Many workers at the front of the assembly line at the Fort Edward plant have had nothing to do for months, while those at the end were paid to work overtime. The union, UE Local 332, negotiated a deal in which GE would pay every worker until Jan. 23 rather than laying people off as their jobs were completed.

By December, some workers were standing around, doing nothing all day. In the last two weeks, GE management took pity on them, and began releasing them.

“The majority of employees stopped reporting to the plant for work over the past two weeks,” said Joan Gerhardt, a spokeswoman for Behan Communications, which was hired by GE to handle public relations. “We thank the employees for their long, dedicated service to produce outstanding products for GE’s customers and to help keep the plant competitive in a tough industry.”

Rosati said the decision was a welcome one.

“Basically, it was a paid vacation,” he said.

Those who remain will send the final capacitors to customers or to Clearwater, Florida. Then they will take apart equipment, some of which will also be sent to Clearwater, Florida.

Other items will be sold or trashed.

“It’s gotta be cleaned first, PCB-wise, and then sold or scrapped,” Rosati said. “Maintenance will do that.”

That crew must also do work in the buildings to prepare them for what might be years of sitting vacant. GE officials say they plan to maintain and own the property indefinitely, but not use it.

So workers must take steps “to maintain the property,” Gerhardt said.

The skeleton crew of 20 all agreed to stay on their original contract terms, Rosati said. Not a single person refused when GE officials asked them to stay.

“Most of them are saying, ‘If I can make this money for another month or two, I will,’ “ Rosati said.

He added that employees didn’t take advantage of the situation to push for more money.

“We’ve got a contract,” he said. “We’re not like GE, to try to renegotiate a contract in the middle.”

For those who will file for unemployment benefits next week, it’s time to start weighing options. Workers are eligible for state-funded training at community colleges.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Rosati said. “If I can get a job — I know it won’t be comparable to what I’m making now, but if it’s halfway decent — otherwise I’ll explore education.”

Either way, eventually he’ll be working somewhere else.

“I’ve got to start over at the bottom somewhere,” he said. “But I’m not the only one in the area this has happened to, so I can’t sit around feeling sorry for myself.”

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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