By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Fifteen employees will work their last day at General Electric's Austintown Products plant Friday, and the company plans more furloughs next year that will reduce the plant's work force by more than a third.
A GE news release said this week's layoffs are a result of "productivity improvements" that enable the company to eliminate 19 positions.
The company plans to eliminate 40 additional jobs in May, the release states, as it transfers a part of its incandescent coiling operations to plants in Monterrey, Mexico, and Hajdubosormeny, Hungary.
Janet Bernard, president of International Union of Electrical Workers/Communications Workers of America Local 734, said 21 positions, not 19, are being eliminated in the first round of cuts. She said six workers took early retirement or have left their jobs because of permanent disabilities and 15 more are being laid off.
Most of those furloughed this week were hired within the last year or two, she said.
Other layoffs announced to employees about two weeks ago must be postponed for six months under the Local 734 bargaining agreement, she said, because they involve a transfer of work to other plants. Workers affected by that layoff may have as much as 10 years' seniority, she said.
In all, Bernard said, GE's plans will reduce the Austintown work force from 171 now to about 112 by summer.
Reaction: She said Local 734 employees earn about $16 an hour. GE officials told employees that a Mexican worker costs the company about $10,000 a year in salary and benefits, while an employee at the Austintown facility costs about $50,000 in salary and benefits.
"It's just tragic," she said of the layoffs. "GE has had two other major layoffs at the Austintown Products plant, one in the late 1970s and another in the 1980s, but it used to be easy to find another, good-paying job. Now, there's nothing out there."
GE said it must make the cuts for the Austintown plant to remain viable "in an extremely competitive global lighting industry." The company will offer eligible furloughed workers supplemental unemployment payments, continued health benefits for one year and tuition assistance to help with retraining.
Besides the Austintown plant, GE has two other facilities in the Mahoning Valley: the Warren plant, which employs about 470 and manufactures specialty lights; and the Niles plant, with 250 workers who make glass.