Warren GE plant closes

WARREN – Workers trickled from the Warren GE Lamp Plant out into the cold Friday afternoon.

They carried gift bags, tote bags and some even had trash bags loaded with personal belongings. Bill Chachko of Hartford carried a camera, pausing to take a picture as he headed out. He said he was memorializing the day and the plant where he has spent 34 years.

After 123 years of doing business in Warren, the lights will be turned off inside the dated brick structure at the corner of Dana Street and North Park Avenue just northwest of downtown.

“It’s sad. A bunch of good people worked here,” Chachko said.

As of this month, about 158 hourly employees worked at the plant, GE spokeswoman Alicia Gauer said. Nine others have been placed in positions at other GE locations, and several others are interviewing with the company for other possible transfers.

Members of the International Union of Electrical Workers-Communication Workers of America Local 722 narrowly voted last April against a concessionary package that the company said would have kept the plant open. Within days after the vote, the company announced the plant would close in early 2014.

Since then, 17 employees have retired.

Warren Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, called Friday’s closing a sad day for both the city and the workers, and described it as the passing of an era.

“I know some of the GE employees personally,” Novak said. “I’ve worked with some of them.”

Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa described the immediate impact as significant on city income tax collection.

Last year, workers at the plant paid about $250,000 in city income tax, which was down from $315,000 in 2012. The city also will lose water and sanitary sewer income from GE, which had been among the city’s top 20 customers.

Although significant, Cantalamessa emphasized the losses are not insurmountable. He said the greater concern is for the now-former GE workers.

“The loss of jobs are devastating for those families. The administration will look to aid them in any way it is possible,” he said.

Mechanic Eric Richard of Howland is among those losing their jobs. He said he will cherish his 19 years at the plant.

“It was a beautiful time. It was a great job. I raised my kids off it,” Richard said as he walked out the employee entrance along Dana Street. He said he has a new job lined up and plans to work to earn a two-year degree.

Plant machinist Bo Watson of Austintown said he also is close to a new job that he said would be “functional.”

He knows it won’t be easy for workers displaced here to find comparable-paying jobs.

“The company has been great through all this, but don’t forget, they started this,” Watson said. “The union didn’t shut down this place. The company did.”

He noted that he voted in April in favor of the agreement that would have kept the plant open.

Watson will return to the quiet plant next week, one of 11 workers being brought back temporarily to assist with equipment removal and cleanup.

Equipment is being transferred to other GE Lighting sites , Gauer said. The company has not announced yet what will happen to the building.

“That was one of the original Packard buildings,” Novak said. “It was previously closed in 1959, but because of its location and the skilled workers in the area, it was quickly purchased and reopened as a GE plant. It would be a miracle if another company would come in and take it over.”

The city has been in discussions with General Electric to make sure it maintains the building and keeps it secure.

“We will work in partnership with the owner of the building to market it, if that is the intention,” Cantalamessa said.

Fearful of blight and vandalism, Novak said, “If it cannot be rehabbed and sold, I hope it will be demolished.”