Over a hundred GE workers and retirees from the U.S. and Canada descended on GE's annual shareholder meeting on April 25th to demand that the company end mass layoffs and plant shutdowns, honor their commitments to retirees, respect workers' rights to organize and make restitution where the company has harmed the health of workers, community members or the environment.
“GE’s recent history of poor decision-making is hurting workers, communities, and shareholders,” says UE Local 506 President Scott Slawson. “Corporate leaders are making one bad move after another. The company’s decisions don’t make financial sense, they wreak havoc with the lives of GE workers and local economies, and they threaten to lead us all over a cliff.” GE's stock price has plummeted recently, prompting anger not only from GE workers and retirees but from GE stockholders.
A bus full of Local 506 members took the day off work to make the two-hour trip from Erie. They were joined by members of Unifor Locals 524 and 599-O, which represent workers at GE’s plant in Peterborough, Ontario. GE is in the process of shutting the Peterborough plant down, leaving behind hundreds of workers who developed cancer from the hazardous chemicals used in the plant. “The shareholders should know what GE is doing,” said Unifor Lcoal 524 GE shop chair Cheryl Armitage.
The Retirees Association of General Electric (R.A.G.E.) also brought a bus full of GE retirees from Erie, and they were joined by retiree groups from Lynn, MA, Louisville, KY, and elsewhere. “You have a responsibility to the company but you have a responsibility to what made this company,” said GE retiree and R.A.G.E. leader Ron Flowers. “I understand there was some bad decisions. It wasn’t on locomotives. We are still going strong.”
Local 618 President Janet Gray spoke on the floor of the meeting. “I grew up in Wesleyville, PA, one of the small communities surrounding Erie,” she said. “I fight an internal struggle daily. I went from someone who once had so much loyalty and faith in this company to someone who despises their lack of loyalty to their employees, and their communities.”
Slawson also spoke on the floor of the meeting, reminding GE that the company's founder, Thomas Edison, made the decision to build locomotives in Erie, PA, in 1910. “We are very proud of the locomotives we build, we want to continue to build those locomotives.”
“GE workers are the ‘economic stimulators’ of our communities. We buy houses and new cars, we spend our income in the local communities,” added Local 506 Vice President Tom Bobrowicz. “Over the last several years, GE has slashed the workforce in Erie from 3000 to 1500. GE’s workers, the communities where GE operates, and GE’s shareholders are all tied into this mess together. Getting GE on the right course starts with GE making a commitment to their employees and the communities in which they operate.”
UE and Unifor have also launched a new campaign website, GECommitToOurCommunities.org, and are encouraging UE members and allies to sign the petition there.
The day before the shareholder meeting, Slawson, Gray and Armitage participated in an all-day meeting in Pittsburgh to chart joint work between UE and Unifor to organize GE workers in the U.S. and Canada, and to plan for a global meeting of GE unions that Unifor will host in Toronto on May 7 and 8. Also attending the meeting were UE's three national officers, UE-GE Conference Board Secretary John Thompson, Research Director Karl Zimmerman, Communications Director Jonathan Kissam and from Unifor, retired Director of Strategic Planning Fred Wilson, Director of Health Safety and Environment Sari Sairanen, Communications Representative Kathleen O'Keefe, Local 524 President Bill Corp and Local 599-O President Tabitha Mocon.
More photos of the action are available on the UE Facebook page, and the action received coverage from global trade union federation IndustriALL, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, CNBC and the Erie Times-News.