Despite an agreement rejected by IUE-CWA Teamsters Local 722 members at the General Electric Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren Monday night to keep that facility operating, some workers took to the sidewalk outside the plant on Tuesday to let the company and the community know they have not given up on reaching a new agreement.
Chants of “save our jobs” could be heard from the approximately 40 workers who rallied Tuesday afternoon in the wake of the union voting down a tentative agreement by only six votes. The agreement would have kept the lights on at the plant for years to come.
“You never vote to shut any plant down. There are plants that are shut down that were never even given this opportunity. It’s like a miracle and it got stuck back in our faces. We are not giving up yet,” said GE employee Lisa DeRubba.
Some workers held signs and some even brought their children in hopes of changing some of their co-workers’ minds.
“I hope some people come to their senses and they will go back in and vote another way so some of the people can keep their jobs,” said GE rally supporter Jannell Bankston.
Sandy May, an outside maintenance contractor, said GE workers are not the only ones that will be affected.
“But everybody in the community, because, like I said, I’m an outside contractor, I’m gone. The suppliers, the restaurants that feed the people, we order out everyday, these people are losing out,” May said.
As workers rallied outside the plant, union leaders and top ge executives were inside the plant all day trying to hammer out a deal. Some believe confusion led to some voting against the agreement, and they hope to see another vote on the agreement or, maybe some reworking of the contract language.
“They are just worried. They worked here for a very long time and they want to make sure they get what is coming to them, but there is not one dime on concessions, on retirement or pensions. They have nothing to worry about,” said GE employee Greg Gotti.
GE official Dave Schuellerman said in a statement that the rejected proposal was aimed at helping to reduce operating costs in the Ohio Lamp Plant and to make the operation more competitive.
“We are disappointed with today’s vote. This package was mainly structured by the union leadership to save jobs and we thought we had negotiated a fair package which the union leadership supported,” said Ron Wilson, general manager, lighting supply chain, GE Lighting. “This package would have allowed the Ohio Lamp Plant to have a promising future by saving some of the existing production, while adding new equipment and work that would keep jobs in the Warren area.”
On Jan. 24, GE Lighting announced its intent to close the plant due in large part to rapidly declining volume at the facility as customers shift from the halogen PAR lamps and specialty incandescent products made there to more energy-efficient lighting products that last longer and cost less to operate and maintain.
“For two months, GE and officials of IUE-CWA Local 722 discussed alternatives to this proposal through the decision bargaining process, displaying a significant cooperative effort to find a way to keep the plant open,” Schuellerman said in the statement.
The Union’s proposal called for a number of cost reductions, including a wage adjustment and the transferring of all but one line of incandescent specialty products currently in production to other GE Lighting plants. Ohio Lamp Plant would continue to produce energy efficient PAR products and add production of several lines of energy efficient halogen (EEH) lamps. The proposal also provided early retirement opportunities for certain long-service employees.
Company officials said no final decision has been made regarding the Ohio Lamp Plant until they have some further discussions with union leadership about the results of the ratification vote. If a deal is not reached, the plant could close down as early as January.
Warren city and Trumbull County officials said they were stunned by the rejection of the tentative agreement. Warren Mayor Doug Franklin urged both sides to keep bargaining in good faith to make sure the plant does not close down.
“From what I understand, there was just a few employees that would fare better off by a plant closing. From a city standpoint, I would hate to see the city lose jobs. We have a lot of unemployment in the area and another plant closing would be devastating,” Franklin said.
Trumbull County Commissioner Frank Fuda agreed.
“Any time any company leaves this county, it means there are people without work and it’s important that everybody has a job now,” Fuda said.