GE plans to turn out lights

WARREN – Blaming the plant’s declining volume and the shift of customer demand to more efficient bulbs made elsewhere, General Electric officials on Thursday announced plans to close Warren’s Ohio Lamp Plant in early 2014, displacing 198 full-time workers.

The plant is the only remaining local GE plant.

”This proposed action is due, in large part, to rapidly declining volume at the facility – currently at one-third of its total capacity – as customers shift from the halogen PAR lamps and specialty incandescent products made there to more energy efficient lighting products that last longer and cost less to operate and maintain,” company officials said in a prepared statement released Thursday evening.

”The declining demand, combined with high fixed operating costs, make it increasingly difficult to make products cost competitively at the plant,” the statement says.

IUE-CWA Local 722 president Scott Moore said Thursday evening,”We don’t have a lot of information right now. We will be bargaining with them for 60 days to try to keep the place open. But very, very rarely do they reverse their decision.”

The company said the proposed action is contingent upon the outcome of bargaining with union officials, who according to their labor contract, will have an opportunity to offer alternatives to the plan.

If the decision is to proceed with the closure, operations will be phased out no sooner than one year from the announcement date, also spelled out in the labor pact.

“This is a difficult, but necessary, announcement to make,” said George Lopuchovsky, plant manager for the Ohio Lamp Plant. “Any action that affects people’s lives and livelihood is a serious matter. If this action moves forward, we intend to take advantage of the long lead time of a year before closing and GE’s other comprehensive benefits to support our work force in making a successful transition.”

If the plant is closed, 198 positions would be eliminated. About 95 people would be eligible for retirement or a plant closing pension option, the company statement said. The remaining 103 workers would be eligible for preferential placement at up to 10 other G.E. locations including one in Grove City, Pa. Displaced workers would be eligible for severance, tuition reimbursement for retraining and a health benefit extension.

Workers have long expected news of the plant’s closure as technology for more efficient bulbs was transplanted to other plants, many in other countries where products like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LED lamps are manufactured.

In August, 36 workers from the Warren plant were permanently laid off and most of the remaining workers endured multi-week furloughs in the fall due to lack of work triggered by the ailing economy.

”LEDs are the way of the future, but I don’t think we are going to be able to see it (manufactured) here,” Moore had said in October. ”We are all worried. It looks worse now than it ever has.”

Moore previously blamed legislation like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that effectively bans use of less-efficient incandescent lamps in favor of more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps and LED lamps for pushing out use of the incandescent bulbs made in Warren.

The company’s statement Thursday said General Electric operates in a highly competitive, global industry that requires it to adjust its operations regularly. It said a similar announcement was made recently of closure of a G.E. lamp plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

David A. Schuellerman, GE Lighting public relations manager said the plant’s age – 123 years old – and layout make the type of upgrades necessary to modernize the facility cost prohibitive.

The North Park Avenue Ohio Lamp Plant is the last remaining lighting factory of four G.E. previously operated in the area. It closed its Austintown plant and Niles Glass in 2008, and its Niles Mahoning Glass in April 2010. At its height, the North Park Avenue plant had about 1,200 employees in the 1970s. Niles Glass had some 500 workers in the 1970s, while about 300 worked at Mahoning Glass.