Talks Fail to Curtail Planned GE Erie Layoffs

GE Transportation has announced that it will go ahead with planned layoffs at its Erie, Pa., locomotive plant after negotiations with the union representing workers there failed to reach an agreement on concessions.

The company said on April 9 that it would lay off 950 union workers and end 100 management positions in Erie. The work done by those employees would be shifted to a newer locomotive plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

The work being transferred to Texas includes building AC locomotives and some mining wheel production. The layoffs are expected to be implemented in October.

The Erie Times-News reported that GE offered to save 410 jobs in Erie in exchange for several concessions, including a two-year pay freeze and lower wages for new employees.

Scott Duke, president of Local 506 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, told the newspaper that the union rejected that offer because it didn’t preserve enough jobs and because of uncertainty over some details.

Duke said he had been optimistic that an agreement could be worked out, but that by midweek he realized that that was not going to happen.

GE executives have contended that it needs to cut costs to remain competitive in a global marketplace. The company says that building a locomotive in Texas is 20 percent cheaper than building it in Erie.

Negotiations between the union and management had occurred since April with the two sides meeting at least 25 times.

The Erie plant will remain open and continue building locomotives. Duke said that if business picks up then employment at the Erie plant might increase. GE cited lower demand for locomotives as another reason why it was transferring production to Texas.

Once the layoffs are imposed, the Erie plant will have about 4,400 employees. The last major job cuts at the Erie plant occurred in 2009 when 1,400 positions were elimiated, many of them through an early retirement option.

However, the early retirement option was not part of a contract that took effect in 2011. Some current Erie plant employees over age 60 are expected to retire in the latest round of job reductions.

The ending of contract concessions talks will not affect two pending unfair labor charges that the union had made against GE Transportation with the National Labor Relations Board.

A charge filed in May alleges that GE moved work to the Texas plant in 2012 and early 2013 without written notice and providing opportunity for the union to bargain.

The second charge, filed on June 14, contends that GE failed to promptly provide requested information during the bargaining process.

GE Transportation has rejected the claims, saying they have no merit.

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