At its recent meeting, the General Executive Board of UE, America’s largest independent union, announced that May 31 will be a day of solidarity actions to support 3,500 members of UE Local 506 at the GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. UE will hold solidarity demonstrations in each of its three regions to protest GE’s plan to eliminate as many as 950 union jobs in Erie and move the work to a non-union GE plant in Fort Worth, Texas. The main solidarity demonstration will take place at GE’s Erie plant.
The solidarity actions are part of a multi-pronged campaign to save good-paying union jobs in Erie. The campaign will include work floor actions, grievances, legal actions, media and community outreach, and a petition that will give supporters all over the globe a chance to protest the job cuts in Erie. UE Local 506, which represents production workers in Erie, has named the campaign, “Keep It Made in Erie.”
GE Transportation makes locomotives and wheel motors for large mining trucks at its Erie factory. The Erie plant also serves as the global headquarters for GE Transportation.
The work done by members of Local 506 have helped make GE Transportation quite profitable. In 2011, GE Transportation’s reported a profit of $757 million, double what it reported in 2010. In 2012, profits rose another 36 percent to $1 billion.
That trend continued through the first quarter of 2012 when GE Transportation reported a 12 percent increase in revenue and a 15 percent increase in profit over the previous year’s first quarter.
Despite the company’s profitability, GE is seeking to lower its labor costs by moving some of the work done in Erie to Fort Worth where the average pay for a GE production worker is about $10 an hour less than in Erie.
When GE and UE agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in 2011, the company told the union that its new Fort Worth plant was only intended to handle overflow work at the Erie plant and that the work in Erie would not be affected.
But on April 9, GE Transportation announced its plan to move work from Erie to Fort Worth.
UE responded a week later with a rally of more than 2,000 workers at the Erie plant’s main gate.
“I see a lot of people here who have dedicated their whole lives to GE,” said Wayne Burnett, Local 506 business agent, as he spoke at the rally. “I see children in strollers who might have a job here someday. I see people who have made this plant the most successful in the GE chain. Is this our reward?” GE needs to learn “that we are the ones who put you where you are today.” He added that the loss of jobs affects more than just 950 people, “but thousands of people in Pennsylvania and the tri-state area.” He concluded, “This cannot happen!”
Scott Duke, newly elected Local 506 president, urged members to resist GE’s attack on their jobs and wages and reminded workers that their good jobs and good wages were the result of union struggles that spanned generations of workers. “Your paycheck may say GE on it,” said Duke. “But never forget that those are union wages.”
Local 506 and representatives of GE Transportation have held negotiations about the work transfer.
According to reports made to Local 506 members, GE representatives told Local 506 negotiators that the company wants the union to propose wage concessions to keep the work in Erie. Union bargainers responded that the union will not propose any wage cuts, freezes, or reductions.
The negotiation deadline has been extended from June 8 to June 22.