GE union rejects plan to stay open

WARREN – Following a “close vote,” it appears as if the General Electric Lamp Plant in Warren will be closing its doors sooner rather than later.

Members of IUE-CWA Local 772 voted Monday against a proposal that would have kept the plant open at least until mid-2015, instead of its scheduled 2014 shutdown.

“We’re disappointed, obviously,” Scott Moore, IUE-CWA Local 722 president, said following the vote. “It was a close vote.”

The local represents 179 workers at the North Park Avenue plant.

Moore explained union representatives will meet with General Electric today to discuss options to stave off plant closure. “It might be over, but we’ll see if anything can be done,” he said.

The proposal was aimed at helping reduce costs to make the operation more competitive, according to Ron Wilson, general manager of the lighting supply chain.

“This package was mainly structured by the union leadership to save jobs, and we thought we had negotiated a fair package which the union leadership supported,” Wilson said.

The proposal announced Thursday met the company’s and national union’s approval. If the members of Local 722 of the International Union of Electrical workers-Communications Workers of America had approved the deal, the plant could remain open at least until June 2015, when the existing national labor contract expires, said Christopher Augustine, GE Lighting’s manager for global communications and public affairs.

To help offset the cuts, the proposal called for a retooling of the 123-year-old building to bring the manufacture of more energy efficient halogen lighting to Warren. In exchange, some of Warren’s incandescent lighting lines would have been sent to other plants, Augustine said.

Last week, plant employees said the offer included 15 percent wage concessions, subsequent wage freezes and personnel reduction. By turning down the proposal, however, the plant is expected to close by January 2014.

“This package would have allowed Ohio Lamp Plant to have a promising future by saving some of the existing production, while adding new equipment and work that would keep jobs in the Warren area,” Wilson said.

A company announcement in January stated the area’s last remaining GE plant was targeted for permanent shutdown unless the company was met with an alternate plan negotiated by union leadership and GE management.

The proposed closing came due to declining volume at the facility as customers shift from the halogen PAR lamps and specialty incandescent products made there to more energy-efficient lighting products, many produced overseas.

The company said late Monday that no final decision will be made regarding the plant until company officials have further discussions with union leadership about the results of the vote.

Longtime Lamp Plant mechanic Carol Hoffman of Cortland said last week that she would vote no on the offer, largely because of the lack of guarantees on jobs.

“You are going to have young people losing their jobs. They think they are saving their jobs, but they will be laid off,” Hoffman said. “People in the middle will go down to lower pay grade. It’s not about seniority anymore.”

In addition, talks between GE plant management and workers in Ravenna to avert that plant’s closure, also announced initially in January, were not fruitful.

Augustine said company officials announced last week the Ravenna plant would close in January 2014. That closure will displace 164 workers.