Unions plan worldwide joint actions against GE

General Electric has been on a job cutting binge not just in the US but in Canada and Europe as well.

After a steady drip of job cuts in 2017 that resulted in the elimination of 1700 US jobs in GE’s Transportation division, the company announced in December that it would eliminate 12,000 of its Power division jobs in Europe and Canada.

Unions whose members work for GE in Europe, Asia, and North America finally said enough is enough and banded together.

Under the auspices of IndustriALL, a global confederation of manufacturing unions, GE’s unions formed the GE Trade Union Network.

Unions from the network on May 7 and 8 met in Toronto to develop a plan to win respect for workers and their communities from GE.

At the end of its meeting, the network issued a statement saying that they will take joint actions on a worldwide scale to change things at GE.

The statement condemned GE for walking away from workers and communities that helped build the company, and it said that GE must work with their workers to “achieve a fair and just social business model.”

Despite the company’s assertions to the contrary, GE comes up short when it comes to being a fair and just social business model.

At the network meeting, delegates heard from Bill Corp, president of Unifor Local 524, whose members work at a GE factory in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

The Peterborough factory has been operating for 125 years and is the heart of the local economy.

Workers there make large motors for many industrial uses.

But last year GE announced that it is closing the factory and that in September 2018 when the factory shuts down, 358 workers will lose their good-paying jobs.

Those jobs will be shipped to Brazil, France, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

“It’s devastating news for the community and Peterborough, there’s no doubt about it,” said Sue James, who has worked at the factory for 30 years to the Toronto Star.

Corp criticized GE for “walking away from workers and communities that the corporation was built upon” and leaving behind what the Star calls a “lethal legacy.”

The “lethal legacy” referred to by the Star is the health impact of thousands of toxic chemicals that Peterborough GE workers worked with between 1945 and 2000.

A report by Unifor found that during that period, workers were exposed to 3000 toxic chemicals, 14 of which have come to be identified as carcinogens.

More than 600 Peterborough workers filed workers compensation claims charging that exposure to toxic chemicals left them with debilitating illnesses including an exceptionally high rate of cancer.

The company contested those claims.

Erie, Pennsylvania is another community that GE has let down.

The Erie locomotive plant, part of GE’s Transportation division, has for the three years seen a steady trickle of its jobs being shipped to a non-union factory in Texas.

GE is Erie’s largest employer, and it pays good, hard-won union wages.

But as it shifts more work to its non-union plant, workers have become more concerned about losing their jobs and the community is on edge about GE’s future plans.

Last year, GE announced that 570 Erie workers would be laid off beginning in 2018.

The layoffs were announced after a decline in demand for the products produced at Erie, but demand is starting to pick up.

GE in December announced that Canadian National Railway Company will buy 200 new GE locomotives over the next three years, and GE management in Erie told leaders of UE Local 506, the Erie production workers’ union, that they expect production to pick up by the beginning of next year.

Nevertheless, the company recently told the local newspaper that it still plans to lay off workers;  although, the layoff number has now been lowered to 300.

In a message to members, Mike Ferritto, business agent for Local 506, said that the union will continue to fight the layoffs.

UE and Unifor, both members of General Electric Trade Union Network, have already begun to take joint action to protect GE workers’ jobs and the communities where they work.

They have started an across-the-border campaign called GE-Commit to Our Communities to generate public pressure on GE to

  • End mass layoffs and plant shutdowns and honor its commitments to retirees,
  • End the practice of intimidating workers who try to exercise their fundamental right to organize collectively, and
  • Where GE has harmed the health of workers, community members or the environment, GE should offer lifetime medical monitoring at no cost to those persons exposed to PCBs and other toxic material, and financial restitution to communities.

On April 25, members of Unifor’s GE locals in Peterborough and UE local 506  demonstrated outside GE’s annual shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh.

“GE’s recent history of poor decision-making is hurting workers, communities, and shareholders,” said UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Corporate leaders are making one bad move after another. The company’s decisions don’t make financial sense, they wreak havoc with the lives of GE workers and local economies, and they threaten to lead us all over a cliff.”

One of the bad moves to which Slawson may have been referring was GE’s decision to go into the long-term care insurance business.

After the market failed to produce the revenue GE hoped for, the company scrambled to get out of the business, but it was too late.

GE recently took a $6.2 billion charge against earnings because of the losses from the failed venture.

The whooping losses became public shortly after GE announced in December that it was laying off 12,000 manufacturing workers worldwide.

In Pittsburgh some GE workers left the demonstration outside and went inside to address investors.

“GE workers are the economic stimulators of our communities,” said Tom Bobrowicz vice-president of local 506 to at the meeting. “We buy houses and new cars, we spend our income in the local communities. Over the last several years, GE has slashed the workforce in Erie from 3000 to 1500. GE’s workers, the communities where GE operates, and GE’s shareholders are all tied into this mess together. Getting GE on the right course starts with GE making a commitment to their employees and the communities in which they operate.”

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