GE, union reach tentative deal to keep lamp plant open
By Jamison Cocklin
A little more than 60 days after negotiations began between General Electric Co. and the union representing 179 workers at the GE Ohio Lamp Plant on North Park Avenue, a tentative deal has been struck to keep the facility open.
Citing declining sales volume, the company had issued an intent-to-close notice for the plant in January, which employs about 200 people. Under the original plan, the plant was scheduled to close sometime during the first quarter of 2014.
But IUE-CWA Local 722, the industrial division of the Communications Workers of America that represents employees at the plant, put forward a series of cost-cutting measures and other ideas that GE found appealing, leading to a tentative agreement that now must be ratified by a majority of the union.
“I think we like the overall plan; it’s not the individual pieces, it’s the entire plan,” said Christopher Augustine, a GE spokesman. “What they presented was related to how they were going to become more cost-effective, as well as more productive; if that was not the case, we would have followed through with the closure.”
For now, much of the deal remains a mystery, as most of the union’s membership has not yet been briefed on the finer points, said Scott Moore, president of Local 722, adding that he believes it is “a good agreement when you consider the alternative of closing.”
A large part of the plan, though, is a shift in what the plant manufactures. The facility primarily serves industrial and commercial customers looking to cut their electricity bills. Over the years, energy-efficient bulbs have become a means to do so, but the plant does not produce them.
“We’re going to be transferring some of that old equipment out and transferring in new technology as part of the plan to make energy-efficient bulbs,” Moore said.
Augustine could not provide further details on the outline of the agreement, saying only that the union had agreed to “some wage concessions” as part of the deal.
Since GE first announced its intent to close the facility in January, some members of Ohio’s congressional delegation stepped up their efforts to keep the doors open. In May, RG Steel announced it would lay off more than 1,200 workers at its Warren facility, only one month before declaring bankruptcy and selling the mill, putting a major dent in the city’s workforce.
January’s announcement from GE threatened to make matters worse.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown met with Maryrose Sylvester, chief executive of GE Lighting, on Wednesday. Last week, Brown asked her to reconsider alternatives put forward by the plant’s workers.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, also has worked closely with the company and the union on the issue.
The union will vote to ratify the agreement late Monday. More details are expected to be released at that time.