Company, union continue talks to stay open

WARREN – One day after the union narrowly defeated a labor contract that could have saved the General Electric Lamp Plant here, a company spokesman still was at a loss for words Tuesday, but outside the plant, workers who supported the deal had plenty to say.

“When GE told us they were closing the plant, that’s business. But when your co-workers vote to close the plant, that’s personal,” said longtime lamp plant mechanic Scott Lauer of Liberty. He and his wife, Diane, a plant mechanic laid off in August, stood among dozens of workers facing the loss of their jobs outside the North Park Avenue plant at shift change.

They chanted, “We want jobs!” and “There go the no votes,” as other workers left the plant at the end of their shift, ignoring the crowd and heading to their cars.

By an unconfirmed vote of 91 to 85, the sharply divided membership of International Union of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America Local 722, opted against the pact that would have meant 15 percent concessions and possible job cuts, but would have guaranteed the plant’s continued operation until at least June 2015. GE also had committed to retooling the 123-year-old building in order to bring in the manufacture of more efficient lighting lines.

“We are disappointed with the results of last night’s vote,” said company spokesman, Christopher Augustine, manager of global communications and public affairs for GE Lighting. “We still are in discussions with the union.”

Despite the vote, the company returned to talks Tuesday with union leadership in an attempt to work out another deal that might still keep the plant open.

Third-generation GE employee Greg Gotti of Champion wasn’t giving up hope. “If GE didn’t believe in us, they wouldn’t have offered it in the first place,” he said.

The company had announced in January the Warren plant which employs about 200 workers including 179 union members, was targeted for permanent closure as early as January 2014.

According to terms of the labor contract, the union had 60 days to offer an alternative plan to keep the plant operating. Terms supported by both the company and the national union were reached last week, but the proposal was defeated by local membership Monday.

Diane Lauer attributed the defeat to older workers who would be eligible for early retirement and severance that included two weeks of pay for each year of GE employment if the plant closed.

“It’s just a shame that older group has that sense of entitlement. For them to vote to close the doors based on self-entitlement, it’s a slap to every union in this area,” she said.

Shannon Jones of Champion, a 19-year employee, agreed.

“We are being shut out on the street so they can retire at 55,” Jones said.

While at work Tuesday, the strongly divided union members shared few words, some of the workers said after their shifts.

But at least one worker in the crowd was stressing the importance of solidarity.

“We want our jobs. We want to give this community a chance to raise tax dollars. We want to have a job to raise our families,” said Regina Jordan, a 17-year employee from Boardman. “This is not us against them. We are not fighting anymore. We just want to work this out.”