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LIGHTS OUT



Published: Sat, March 6, 2010 @ 12:01 a.m.

By DON SHILLING

shilling@vindy.com

  General Electric Plant Closing

General Electric is closing plants in the Mahoning Valley. Ron Oskowski is one of hundreds of workers losing his job.

General Electric is closing plants in the Mahoning Valley. Ron Oskowski is one of hundreds of workers losing his job.

Like many of us, Ron Oskowski is saving money by using high-efficiency light bulbs in his Austintown home.

Unfortunately for Oskowski, that same technology is eliminating his job.

He is among the hundreds of area General Electric workers who are victims of a worldwide drive to cut energy costs.

GE is shutting down much of its local operations because they produce incandescent bulbs and related products that don’t meet new energy standards set by governments around the world.

Oskowski, 44, said the closing of his plant in Niles next month “really, really hurts” because it was the job he always wanted to land — steady work, good pay and a secure retirement down the road.

“It was the American dream,” said the Navy veteran who’s been with GE for 10 years.

That dream is ending, or at least being obscured, for many in the Mahoning Valley. Oskowski’s plant will be the third local factory that GE has closed since 2008. In addition, GE’s last remaining plant, Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren, has had its work force cut by more than 50 percent in the past 10 years.

Soon, GE’s only employees in the Valley will be the 240 workers at the Warren plant. The company’s local work force totaled 1,050 a decade ago and 2,000 in 1985.

Stung by the cutbacks, many GE workers have refused to install the compact-fluorescent bulbs that are replacing the outdated incandescents.

At first, Oskowski resisted installing CFLs. But when his children came home from school and begged him to install the energy-saving bulbs, he relented.

“I see where GE is coming from,” he said.

He said he understands that GE can’t keep churning out bulbs that it can’t sell. Following the leads of other countries, Congress passed an energy bill in 2007 that will prohibit the sale of most incandescents. The ban will be phased in from 2012 to 2014.

The laws set standards that can be achieved only through the use of new technologies, such as CFLs, which last longer and are more efficient.

Oskowski gets all of that, which is why he has installed some CFLs in his house.

But that doesn’t take away his frustration as he ponders his future without a job.

“GE should have brought us another industry to this area,” he said.

Since it didn’t, Oskowski is the one looking for a new industry. Unless he can latch on at a GE plant in another city, he plans to take classes to become a windmill technician.

Instead of bringing new lighting technology to local plants, GE is importing its CFLs, which are made by a joint venture that it created with another company in China.

Union officials tried without success to bring such work to the Mahoning Valley.

“They’ve upgraded overseas and phased us out,” said Dennis Hayda, president of Local 751 of the United Electrical Workers at the Mahoning Glass Plant in Niles.

That plant produced glass for incandescent spotlights and floodlights. Work from Niles was moved to a more modern plant in Kentucky because both plants had been operating below capacity.

Michael Petras, president and chief executive of GE Lighting, said the costs were too high to retrofit the old plants in the Mahoning Valley.

Plus, the area’s last remaining plant — the Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren — has the highest-paid light bulb workers in the world, he said.

“They’re great people, and they’ve done great work for us. But these two things make it tough,” he said.

To make Warren more attractive, plant workers gave up three years of raises they were scheduled to receive, said Bill Draves, president of Local 722 of the International Union of Electrical Workers at Warren. Previously, they had agreed to lower wage scales for new workers and those in certain non-production jobs.

Longtime production workers are paid an average of about $27 an hour, although the lower tiers go down to $12 an hour.

Still, some work remains at Warren. The federal energy bill provided exclusions for small household bulbs, such as candelabra bulbs, and certain spotlights and floodlights that are made in Warren.

Draves acknowledges, however, that all of the plant’s jobs will be gone someday if it continues to make only incandescent products. More stringent restrictions are expected out of Washington, he said.

Having missed out on CFL production, the plant’s next hope is light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

“We need LEDs, and we need to get into the 21st century. If not, we’re going to get left behind,” Draves said.

He is part of a group that recently has been lobbying in Washington, D.C., for federal assistance for the lighting industry in order to retrofit existing machinery and for research and development. The labor group also is seeking trade rules that would require imported products to be made under safety and environmental regulations that exist in the U.S.

“We can be green, and we can be blue at the same time, as in blue-collar work, people putting food on the table,” he said.

Draves also said that some union workers in Warren and company engineers last year developed a prototype of a floodlight made with LEDs. He said a senior IUE official showed the prototype to Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and chief executive of GE Corp.

“There was quite a bit of stir over that. It showed we’re really concerned and willing to do what it takes to keep our jobs,” he said.

Petras, who is based in Cleveland at GE Lighting’s worldwide headquarters, said he wasn’t familiar with the prototype. He said he constantly receives ideas on new lighting technology, which are reviewed by staff.

Some LED products have hit the market already, such as those for display cases and street lights, but many household applications are still coming. LEDs for household use have been slower to arrive than CFLs because LED products tend to spread light only in one direction.

In a display in Cleveland, however, GE has a LED-powered household bulb that it plans to introduce this year. The bulb spreads light in all directions like an incandescent but uses less than 10 watts of electricity and is designed to last 20,000 hours. The display compares it to a 40-watt incandescent bulb that is rated at 1,000 hours of life.

Petras said production decisions on such products are still pending, so he couldn’t say if LEDs will find a home in the Warren plant.

When the federal law first came out, it appeared domestic lighting plants had more of a future, he said. GE had hoped to make enough improvements to incandescent bulbs that they could meet the new energy standards.

“We spent millions of dollars on that, and it would have allowed us to keep our facilities that make incandescents. It just didn’t work out,” he said.

The changes in technology are forcing GE to restructure its entire lighting business, he said. As newer bulbs last longer, less production is needed and so older, less-efficient plants have been closed.

“It’s a global phenomenon. It’s not just an Ohio thing or a U.S. thing,” Petras said.

Plants have been closed in Asia, South America and Europe as well as in North America, he said.

He noted that GE is moving production of long fluorescent bulbs from Hungary and Canada to a plant in Bucyrus, Ohio, because the domestic plant is larger and has more efficient equipment. GE is spending millions of dollars to upgrade the equipment further and add production space, he said.

Hayda, the union officer in Niles, said one of the workers from that plant has been hired in Bucyrus and others have interviewed for positions.

Other Niles workers are looking for jobs in the area, while many will retire. Hayda said he is among the 46 workers who have enough years with GE to receive full pensions and health care. The plant employed 109 when the closing announcement was made last year.

As Draves wonders whether the same fate is coming to the Warren plant, he said he wonders if GE should consider the lives of its workers as it strives to be as profitable as possible.

“Sometimes, I have to ask, ‘How much money is enough?’” he said.

But Petras said GE Lighting is fighting a pitched battle against light-bulb manufacturers around the world. All of them are after the limited shelf space at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Target and Wal-Mart, which sell two-thirds of all light bulbs in this country.

The only way to get on those shelves is to efficiently produce the latest technology, he said.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Mahoning Valley, that means closing plants that are making outdated products, he said.

“This is no reflection on our employees. Our business is changing,” Petras said. “Just because I’ve been a light-bulb company for 100 years doesn’t mean I’m going to be a light-bulb company for the next 100 years,” he said.

GE IN VALLEY

History

General Electric was once a major employer in the Mahoning Valley A look at the company’s declining local presence:

Youngstown Lamp Plant produced small household bulbs, such as night lights and Christmas lights. Closed in 1985. Jobs: 500. Half the jobs were eliminated and half sent to other local plants.

Trumbull Lamp Plant in Warren produced various bulbs for the aircraft, mining, construction, farm, entertainment and swimming-pool industries. Closed in 1989. Jobs: 300. A few dozen workers were transferred to other plants, but the rest were eliminated.

Austintown Products Plant produced filaments for incandescent bulbs. Closed in 2008 Jobs: 73 positions eliminated, although the plant employed 250 in 2000.

Niles Glass Plant produced glass for high-intensity lights, such as street lights. Closed in 2008 Jobs: 57 positions eliminated.

Mahoning Glass Plant in Niles produced glass for incandescent spotlights and floodlights. Will close in April. Jobs: 109 positions eliminated.

Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren remains open with 240 employees.

240, down from 600 in 2000.


Comments

1UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Just another example of why Tim Ryan should not be re-elected to Congress in the fall of 2010. He voted with the Green Democrooks to put all these GE workers in the valley out of work by voting for the energy bill. Shame on you Tim Ryan. Still waiting too to hear why you can't help Denman Tire get a $3 million government loan? Vote Tim Ryan out - he is not for helping the workers of this valley keep their jobs.

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2jrolley325(799 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

or maybe GE should stop making outdated products....it would be like a record company going out of business because they refuse to stop making 8-track tapes

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3Springman(235 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Luddites are doomed to extinction.

GE could have easily retooled, if it had wanted to, which is the idea behind the green revolution. Government has nothing to do with the outsourcing mentality, as companies are willing to kill the geese that laid the golden eggs. Maybe had the Union bought the local operation, or looked for a buyer, some jobs would have been saved.

"Instead of bringing new lighting technology to local plants, GE is importing its CFLs, which are made by a joint venture that it created with another company in China." Did they consider a joint venture with the workers?

If we continue to buy foreign products, all of us will have the fate of Luddites.

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4TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

27 dollars an hour to make anything in a manufacturing plant is ridiculous. I don't imagine you need any kind of degree to work on the line.

Most college graduates don't make that much.

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51970mach1(1005 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

"Bill Draves, president of Local 722 of the International Union of Electrical Workers at Warren .......wonders if GE should consider the lives of its workers as it strives to be as profitable as possible."

“Sometimes, I have to ask, ‘How much money is enough?’” he said.

"Longtime production workers are paid an average of about $27 an hour, although the lower tiers go down to $12 an hour."

"Plus, the area’s last remaining plant — the Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren — has the highest-paid light bulb workers in the world"

Ironic.

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6Photoman(1000 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

If neither the unions or the government can save our jobs then just who is running this world economy and, in absentia, running governments throughout the world? It appears to me that our elected leaders still aren't listening to we the people and are being bought and sold on a regular basis by those unidentified parties.

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7HaydenThomas(208 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

What is it about uneducated Americans that makes them think 27 dollars an hour is what companies will pay when they can get the same or better work for a fraction of that? Get a skill that is in demand and that can't be performed by everyone on the planet. Skills are what will pay a livable wage in the future. Unskilled labor making middle class wages in America is going the way of the dodo bird.

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8howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Encourage GE to build a plant here making LED lighting as goes incandescent so to CFL will go; it is also old technology.

The only way to save these local jobs would be to give incentives to GE to convert the plants to LED production.

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9jrolley325(799 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

if they did that, then the unskilled labor unions would demand $40/hour

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10justsayin(42 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Sotired:

Without those paper pushers, you wouldn't have: Sales, product designs, payroll, raw materials, computer systems, health insurance, etc. Maybe you should consider how ridiculous your comments are before posting them. Oh and your math is way off on the house payment. Even your 27 dollar an hour guy could probably qualify for a 300k home. Your comments are SooooTired.

........this message was typed in the comfort and security of my $300,000.00 paper pusher financed home.

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11TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Sotired,

I worked in a couple factories. In neither one did I do work that required any qualifications, other than I wasn't on drugs at the time of hiring and that I was physically fit enough to be hired. I worked swing shift at one and midnights at another. I worked with molten aluminum.

The work was simple and repetitive. I was proud to do it, but I certainly didn't feel it was worth $27 an hour. It required no more expertise than it does to wash dishes, cook food in a chain restaurant, wait tables, pick up garbage, etc.

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12seriouslyalready(8 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

I am related to 2 GE Ohio Lamp employees and friends with countless others, both current and laid off. Here's a bit of insight and FACTS...

Those making $27/hour are in fact SKILLED labor. An estimated 80% of the remaining workforce at Ohio Lamp is skilled labor. These include professions such as electricians, machinist, and HVAC. And do you really think its so easy to make light bulbs? Then why don't you build a machine and make them? Because that is essentially what these men and women have to do. They have to be able to work on every aspect of these machines, some close to 100 years old, in order to keep them running efficiently. This isn't a simple case of "pour glass in and out comes a light bulb, take it off an assembly line and package it".

As far as CFL's go...what a joke! And shame on you Oskowski (and any other GE lighting employee who uses them) for converting to them. They are hazardous. Break one and you're exposed to mercury. And who of you that uses them disposes of them properly? Do you take them to a qualified recycle depot? Or do you double bag them before you toss them? Most likely not. So there they lay in landfills, getting broken and allowing all that mercury into our water tables. That's just wonderful for the environment that this bill is meant to protect. Also they are not nearly as bright as an incandescent, cost more, and the hours they are rated to last are not nearly what they really do as they are not designed for the daily on/off of normal usage. I will admit that we use one for our porch light, and have for probably close to 8 years . We leave it on ALL THE TIME. We have found if we shut it off daily it only lasts about 1/4 of it's rated usage. I absolutely refuse to buy them for every day use until I have no other choice. As for the LED technology... it is here and it is viable! But GE execs refuse to consider it. And a lot of it is a matter of retrofitting existing machines!

I'd also like to point out that GE execs received a bonus on par to that of the savings from the 3 year wage freeze that employees voted on in order to try and save their jobs.

Where are people's compassion? Obviously it lies with big corporation rather than with your neighbors.So what? my friends and my family should suffer because they make what you feel is to much money? Please explain the logic in this...

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13seriouslyalready(8 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Oh let me add that my husband works very hard for that 27/hr. He is exposed to countless hazardous chemicals daily. His body has taken a beating over the last 12 years that it would not have otherwise had as a paper-pusher or heck, even a lot of other factory work. But he goes to work daily GRATEFUL for his job and the ability it affords him to take care of his family.

Oh and justsayin... It is possible someone making 27/hr could QUALIFY for a 300k house loan but making the payments would be a whole other issue. If you only wanted to have a ridiculously priced house and no food for your kids then that's fine. Hey who needs to eat after all? (this typed from the comfort and security of my 45k lowly factory worker financed home-- and yes we could afford more but our home is beautiful, full of children's laughter and happiness and we choose to funnel our money elsewhere then on trying to impress others)

Sotired... You go! You made a lot of VALID points.

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14candystriper(575 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

...what will prop up the value of a $300k home...Jr.High School as an industry...lol...no child left to educate...a service industry will save us...in a ghost town...lol...sure one bartender serving one paper pusher.

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15justsayin(42 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

seriouslyalready:

You missed my point. I was calling out Sotired for the ridiculous math....$100 an hour in order to qualify for a $300k house? Get real. These posts are full of misinformation like that just to try to make a point.

I respect the fact that you have chosen to live in a house that you are happy with and can comfortably afford. The point is that I have done the exact same thing.

I've owned 2 smaller houses that I spent years living in, fixing up and re-selling. A lot of hard work went into those first houses so that I could accumulate enough equity to afford a bigger house. My mortgage payments are lower than some people's car payments. My kids eat, we entertain friends here and we aren't trying to impress a soul. It only took hard work and the patience to wait until I could comfortably afford to take on the bigger house. Our growing family twice forced us to move to a bigger place and once the kids are on their own, we'll probably go the other direction. If all this makes me some kind of evil "paper pusher" I can live with that.

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16TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Again, $27 an hour for a factory job that requires no degree is too much. I can appreciate a skilled labor job, but most college grads don't make $27 an hour.

In the factory I worked in, I was also exposed to hazardous chemicals and physically demanding tasks, but it still wasn't work that was worth $27 an hour.

I don't begrudge anyone a job. I usually don't begrudge them their wages. $1000 a week to make lightbulbs is out of whack, and has shown in GE's inability to remain competitive.

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17Springman(235 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

"Divide and conquer." Julius Caesar. As long as we remain antagonistic to each other, we don't progress.

The "competition" and "mercury" and the "high wage" arguments are examples of "red herrings" that do not justify the deal to ship jobs to China. GE puts out propaganda. The plants have probably been depreciated for tax purposes. Incandescent light bulbs are like buggy whips at the turn of the 20th century: no longer necessary for general use. The cost of goods sold of the product is meaningless. By the time new goods come on line, the management who conceived and executed the deal will be long gone, the technology will have changed and the shareholders will be left holding the bag.

In this kind of a scenario, workers have to figure out how to put out a competitive product. There are some American manufacturers still in business.

http://www.maxlite.com/PDFs/FocusShee...

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18seriouslyalready(8 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

I am so tired of people trying to pull their neighbors down instead of doing what they can to raise to their level. Just because you are jealous over the fact that a lowly factory worker can make good money does not mean that they do not deserve it! Not all factory work is the same and for someone like TB to try and say it is not deserved because they themselves worked in a couple of factories does not make it so. I myself have worked in some factories and yes there are jobs out there that only deserve minimum wage at best. But a lot of these men and women do work hard and deserve every penny they make! Also as I pointed out, it is in fact skilled labor making the $27/hr. The unskilled labor makes anywhere from $12-$20 or so depending on a. the job and b. when they were hired in. And even most of the unskilled labor is actually more skilled than not. Can just anyone work on their own cars? No because not everyone is mechanically inclined.

Another thing, when people are compensated well for the work that they do then quality tends to be higher. Look at what is happening in the auto industry today. So many of these recalled cars come from where? Union shops? No, they are coming out of non-union southern states where the pay wage is much lower and benefits are lacking. You want quality you make a worker feel like it's worth that added effort to do a good job and will take pride in the product they produce instead of just going in and doing the bare necessities in order to collect that measly paycheck. Say what you will about unions but they have done a lot of good for this country.

Let me also say that either Petras is a liar or he needs to hire new staff. When people in your company have taken it upon themselves to make a viable LED, something to save countless jobs (not to mention is a product that is more green than CFL's), something like that should not be overlooked! And obviously he is aware of it now and chooses to discard the idea. Bottom line is China makes things cheaper and that means more money in the stockholders pockets. So yeah, "How much money is enough?"

penguinbird,

there's gonna be a whole lot of broken bulbs then!

justsayin,

I agree that the math was exaggerated. And I appreciate the fact that you have been patient and waited till you could afford to move up. So many today feel they are entitled to things without having to work and wait. I apologize for getting my back up, I just got frustrated that you latched on to that and missed all the other pertinent points that sotired made.

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19seriouslyalready(8 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

(sorry meant Shareholders--not stockholders)

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20seriouslyalready(8 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Ok nevermind I did mean stockholders. I apologize, I haven't had my coffee yet...

(I will admit the two terms often confuse me.)

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21blue(1 comment)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

Ohio Lamp is one of the last US lamp plants standing for one reason. We have been competitive, even with low wage countries. It is only due to decreased volume that we have fallen out of line with global cost on some lamp types. We may be the best paid lamp makers in the world but we are also the most productive.
We lost a whole department to china about ten years ago. When I asked what we could do to reduce cost, the answer was. "There is nothing you can do, we can have them delivered to our ports ready to sell for less than we can buy materials to make them." " If you worked for free the lamps would still go." GE, rightly so, will take your production and move it somewhere else if you do not remain competitive.
As for saying we make to much... everybody that works for GE makes good money from the paper pushers to the production workers. It does not matter if you are a paper pusher, production worker, or manager. Each job is equally important and necessary to complete the final task. I do not understand the mentality of "you make to much" Why drag every one down when you could rise up instead? So TB I say to you, If you feel that you are not worth $27 dollars an hour, keep making less. I have been looking for a job and from what I have found, I will continue making $27. I will have to move to get it, but it is possible. I am skilled and I have a college degree, I choose to work with my hands because it is what I prefer.

Again I have to ask " Why does it matter how much money I make if I can make the same thing for less than someone else" We do it everyday at Ohio Lamp. That is why we continually strive to be the best lamp makers in the world.

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22TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 6 months ago

seriously, what you fail to understand is that I AM a union member. I'm all for a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, and for a living wage. I'm not debating that the work isn't hard or worthwhile. I currentlywork at a job that sees people consistently questioning how much I make and the effort I put into my job.

But justifying a $27 a hour job to make a lightbulb that people pretty much won't buy because, as was pointed out, they're inefficient...come on. who are you kidding?

What you are failing to realize is that, although you would like to portray yourselves as such, you are not artisans. You are semi-skilled labor working on an outdated product. You are not crafting anything. You are mass producing a product meant to be sold to mass audiences.

$27 an hour grosses over $2000 every two weeks, a normal paycheck. That's about $50000 a year to make lightbulbs. Not develop them...create them from scratch...make a more efficient lightbulb...design a new lightbulb... that's $50000 a year (plus benefits I'd imagine) to make a lightbulb with exisiting (and inefficient) technologies.

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