Despite returning to work Monday after three weeks of furlough, employees at the General Electric Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren remain concerned about their long-term future.
There always have been rumors in this plant that GE might stop production, said Scott Moore, president of IUE-CWA Local 722 union in Warren. The plant has 198 hourly employees along with a few salaried employees.
“There’s always been a cloud that hangs over this place that it might close. It just seems a little more real now,” he said.
There is no truth to rumors that the plant is going to be closed soon though, Moore said. The company has agreed to provide at least a year’s notice before closure in the contract with the union, or it will pay certain severance and other benefits to employees.
The shutdown was a routine decision made because of the number of orders GE received. If the company would not have shut down, there would have been the risk of creating an oversupply, said Christopher Augustine, manager of global communications and public affairs for GE Lighting. The plant could shut down again in the future if there are supply issues.
“There are no plans at this time for any additional furloughs,” he said. “We have to match the inventory to the needs of our customers.”
At this time “it’s inappropriate to speculate” about if the facility could be shut down, Augustine said.
GE constantly monitors the market to ensure that facilities are viable. The company would make an announcement to employees before another being said to the public, he said.
The plant makes incandescent light bulbs, which the U.S. Congress has now banned with the exception of the few speciality products. These are the same products made in Warren and a few other sites around the country, Moore said.
“We’re the only solely incandescent facility left in country,” he said.
The current opening will last at least a few weeks before there could be another temporary closure, Moore said.
Issues at the plant have to do with low orders for the products it makes and unfair labor practices that do not allow the plant to compete financially in some areas, he said.
“Our customers like Lowe’s and Home Depot have just stopped ordering incandescent bulbs, opting for greener technology,” Moore said. “Our labor cost isn’t even a factor [in the current situation].”
Allison Preiss, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said at this time there is no specific trade complaint involving the lighting industry, to her knowledge.
“If there is some type of unfair trade practice occurring and a complaint is filed, Sen. Brown stands ready to help them in any way he can,” Preiss said.
The best thing that can be done if the issue is with China is to pass the Chinese currency legislation, she said. The bill would allow the United States to create tariffs to offset alleged actions by the Chinese government to keep the country’s currency artificially low to create a trade advantage for Chinese goods.
Union members have attempted to work with GE to come to some type of an agreement to alter the plant to make something other than incandescent bulbs that would add more job security, Moore said.
Augustine said he could not comment about any actions that might be taken to upgrade the plant or add new products.