Kevin Smith, of Salem, Va., Worked at General Electric for about 20 years before the city’s plant closed in late 2019, and the work moved to a plant in India.
“It was a total shock because of the way things were going, with all the overtime we were doing, everything just looked great, like it didn’t happen. All I wanted was to wake up, that I had had a nightmare, but it wasn’t, ”said Smith, 50, who was among 265 GE employees laid off due to the closing.
Because of his age – 48 when the plant closed – Smith was denied a retirement pension. Other job prospects offered much lower wages and hours – he has two children – so he decided to go back to school, as part of a program offered through Aide à trade adjustment.
“When people started working at GE, for the most part, they considered this to be their last job. That’s the way I saw it, ”said Smith, whose father retired from the same GE factory – which had operated in the community for 65 years – in the 1990s. , they were just trying to maximize their profits. This is what you really felt like you were a number.
GE attributed the shutdown to “persistent challenges in the electrical industry and a significant drop in orders at this plant,” and said no new jobs were created overseas, but rather absorbed by the hand. -existing work. Although the union representing the workers offered concessions in an attempt to keep the plant open, General Electric proceeded with the shutdown.
Over the past decades, manufacturing in the United States has been devastated by plant closures and relocations, resulting in the loss of millions of well-paid, often unionized, workers and jobs. “Ideally,” General Electric CEO Jack Welch said in 1998, “you would have every factory you own on a barge to move around with currencies and changes in the economy.”
In the case of GE – one of the most powerful and enduring industrial brands in industrial America – a group of labor unions, environmentalists, veterans and activists are trying to change all that. The Bring It Home GE campaign was recently launched and led by IUE-CWA, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, AFL-CIO, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and Common Defense. They are calling on General Electric to stop relocating jobs from the United States and making significant investments in manufacturing renewable and green energy infrastructure to deal with the climate crisis.
“The stakes could not be higher,” said Ben Smith, head of the field organization for Greenpeace USA. “We see that GE has this responsibility to live up to the moment. We know there has to be a proven track record in the United States in delivering sustainable infrastructure, including manufacturing, in our country to get us on this path, reduce emissions and reduce climate pollution. “
Campaign leaders highlighted the coronavirus pandemic and the political climate – as well as the Biden administration’s supportive stance towards unions and the use of federal contracts to support American manufacturing – as an opportunity for labor movements and environmental issues to pressure companies like GE to invest in a green economy.
“GE is an iconic American company. Everyone still thinks this is an American company, but gradually it left America behind by outsourcing thousands of good union jobs to support the family, and left behind empty factories and cored cities across the country, ”said Chris Shelton, president. of the Communications Workers of America, which represents thousands of GE workers in the United States through its industry division, IUE-CWA. “Our campaign is to tell the stories of cities that have widened and workers who no longer work in GE factories.”
Globally and in the United States, General Electric has significantly reduced its workforce. At the end of 2020, General Electric employed 58,000 workers in the United States out of a global workforce of 174,000, down from a global workforce of 283,000 at the end of 2018, with 97,000 of those workers employed in the United States. United States.
In 1995, 70% of GE’s workforce was based in the United States, compared to about a third today. The number of GE manufacturing plants in the United States grew from 191 in 2017 to 82 plants in 2020. GE attributed these changes in their workforce to transactions, mainly sales from GE-owned companies such as NBC, Biopharma , Baker Hughes and others.
“Almost all of our stores represented by UIE-CWA have experienced offshoring,” said Carl Kinnebrew, President of UIE-CWA. “This moment presents the critical choice: Will GE reinvest in American manufacturing like never before, or will it continue the destructive path of sending our manufacturing base overseas and divesting in the communities that are there? ‘have actually built? “
Among the job cuts in the United States, thousands of jobs over the past decades have been sent overseas, even as the company receives billions of dollars each year through government contracts federal. Dozens of turbine jobs have moved to Poland from Schenectady, New York this year, which GE says did not lead to job creation overseas but was absorbed by existing workers.
General Electric has also closed factories across the United States in recent years in communities that historically relied on the company to provide well-paying union jobs. In 2015, GE announced it was closing its engine plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and moving the work to Canada, affecting 350 jobs. GE blamed the shutdown on Congress, which failed to re-authorize the Export and Import Bank.
About 150 workers in Circleville, Ohio, lost their jobs when GE decided to shut down the city’s lighting plant in 2017. In 2020, General Electric announced the closure of a wind turbine plant in Little Rock, Arkansas, affecting approximately 450 jobs. In 2016, three GE facilities were closed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, putting 235 workers out of work.
A spokesperson for General Electric said constant demand for products, policies and economic conditions are among the factors that determine where to locate new jobs or facilities.
The company added in a statement, “GE is proud to be a leader in the energy transition, and our employees contribute by developing innovative products and technologies that meet the energy challenges of the future. We believe the energy transition will provide new job opportunities, such as the recently approved Massachusetts offshore wind project, which will feature our Haliade-X wind turbine, the most powerful offshore wind turbine built today, and includes an agreement for work on the project guaranteeing the creation of around 500 unionized jobs.