US Senator, Bob Casey, sits down with the Executive Board of UE 506 to discuss ways to save jobs at the GE Transportation Plant in Lawrence Park.
Union Leaders say US Senator Bob Casey was the first phone call that came in after GE's announcement to express his frustration and willingness to help. "This work force is more skilled than any force in the world you have proven it over and over again but the company is obsessed with their shareholders," said Casey.
"When they come to us for help and to these workers for more output and then pull the rug out from underneath them over and over again I don't know how they sleep at night," says Casey.
The Senator calling GE corporate leaders to respect the workforce which made it successful. Casey met with the UE 506 Executive Board Members, as well as officers from UE 618, a second union at GE that will lose 80% of its members should the plan go through.
Scott Slawson, UE 506 President says, "it's refreshing, to have someone, a US Senator agreeing with you. This has been happening far too much far too often and for no good reason".
GE announced at the end of last month that they plan to end locomotive production in its Lawrence Park Plant; cutting 575 jobs from UE 506, but closer to 1,000 jobs total when you consider the white collar jobs that will also be lost in the transition.
Casey says persuasion is the only tool left to work with. "We have to do what we can to prevent it... we have to come together and work to make sure these skilled workers can transition into other jobs or careers," he said.
Some Union Members are looking at the worst case scenario and are calling on the Senator to help fix what he calls a broken unemployment system.
The Union has a Foreign Trade Agreement Petition in their contract that expires in June. That will help provide money for school and further their unemployment benefits, but that system has failed previously laid off employees.
Leo Grzegorzewski, Chief Plant Steward, tells us, "some members didn't get checks for six months, they had to drop out of school, get a job, and once you drop out you are not eligible; that is what happened to a lot of our folks".
"It's a shame that companies like GE and others can just decimate communities with absolute immunity and that is what we are seeing," adds Slawson.
GE responded with an official statement saying, "GE's proposal to transfer production was not made lightly. Today, the growth opportunities for locomotives are global, if we are going to compete and preserve US jobs, we must drive efficiency and cost competitiveness."
The lengthy response goes on to say they are willing to work with the Union on any proposals they might offer.
The Union still has a few more days to decide to enter into negotiations with the company, but President Scott Slawson says those talks have never been successful in the past.
UE Local 506 has put together an economic impact study of the GE job transfers. The study looks at the economic impact of the job losses at GE in 2013, 2016 and next year's projected shut down of locomotive production.
The study projects more than 4,000 jobs will be lost across all sectors in the local economy.
The total transfer of work since 2013 will result in a $1.6 billion loss across Erie County.
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