WARREN - A union vote set for Monday could determine whether the lights will stay on inside General Electric's Ohio Lamp Plant here, but dozens of workers pouring out of the North Park Avenue plant after their shift Thursday weren't feeling particularly optimistic.
The offer that they said includes 15 percent wage concessions, subsequent wage freezes and personnel reduction was weighing heavily against the plant's permanent closure expected in January 2014.
"The plant closing (announcement) was hard enough, but to come back with something that is going to be more damaging to them is not the right answer," said 35-year Lamp Plant mechanic Carol Hoffman of Cortland. "GE has been very good to me, but this thing they are doing now is not going to be good for anyone."
General Electric Ohio Lamp Plant, Warren, employee Richard Cook of Canfield talks about his dissatisfaction with a tentative agreement to keep the plant open. The agreement would include 15 percent wage concessions, subsequent wage freezes and personnel reduction. Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
A company announcement in January that the area's last remaining GE plant was targeted for permanent shutdown was met with the offer of an alternate plan negotiated by union leadership and GE management. The proposed closing came due to 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, many produced overseas.
The proposal announced Thursday has met the company's and national union's approval. If the 179 members of Local 722 of the International Union of Electrical workers-Communications Workers of America approve the deal Monday, the plant could remain open at least until June 2015, when the existing national labor contract expires, said Christopher Augustine, GE Lighting's manager for global communications and public affairs.
To help offset the cuts, the proposal calls for a retooling of the 123-year-old building to bring the manufacture of more energy-efficient halogen lighting to Warren. In exchange, some of Warren's incandescent lighting lines would be sent to other plants, Augustine said.
GE history in the Valley
North Park Avenue Ohio Lamp Plant: Last local GE factory; formerly employed 1,200 in the 1970s. Now employs 198.
Austintown plant: Closed in 2008.
Niles Glass plant: Closed in 2008; formerly had 500 workers in the 1970s.
Niles Mahoning Glass: Closed in April 2010; formerly had 300 workers.
Youngstown Lamp Plant: Previously employed 1,000 workers.
Trumbull Lamp Plant: Previously on Warren's west side; employed 400 workers.
Source: Tribune Chronicle archives
Scott Moore, president of IUE-CWA Local 722, said the national union already has approved the deal, leaving Monday's vote as the final step in the process. Moore was encouraging passage.
"It's still a good wage for the area. It's still the same benefits," he said.
Some workers, however, believed the severance and tuition reimbursement offers that came with the plant's closure announcement may give some workers more options. And even the proposal to bring halogen lines to Warren did not leave many workers optimistic.
"There's no sales. A 15 percent pay cut is not helping sales. It helps costs, but it doesn't help sales," said Richard Cook, 55, of Canfield, who has worked at the plant for 25 years. "And there's no guarantees there's going to be no layoffs."
Pam Slomcheck of Champion has worked as an inspector inside the plant for 15 years. She called for shoppers to support the American-made bulbs.
"Buy from your own community, that's the way I feel," Slomcheck said. "We make them - buy them. They are good lamps. Nothing goes out the door bad."
She said she wasn't sure how she'll vote on the contract.
"I would hate to see the plant go. This place has been here forever," she said. "What are they going to do with it? Close it down just like all these other buildings around here."
Augustine said the company's offer to reverse closure plans is extremely atypical.
"It has happened, but it's not very typical," he said.
Augustine said both U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan stayed involved in talks the last two months about keeping the plant open.
Brown said he spoke Wednesday night with GE chief executive officer Mary Rose Sylvester to encourage her consideration of the proposal offered by the Warren workers as an alternative to the plant's closure.
"I am proud to stand with the Warren workers who have fought tirelessly to keep the plant open," Brown said.
Ryan on Thursday called the agreement significant because it keeps workers on the job and builds new products. "We need to continue the fight to keep manufacturing jobs in our local communities," he said.
Under the labor contract with IUE-CWA membership, the company was required to give a one-year notice of intent to close the plant and give the workers an opportunity to attempt to negotiate means to keep the plant in operation.
Talks between GE plant management and workers in Ravenna to avert that plant's closure, also announced initially in January, were not as fruitful.
Augustine said company officials announced Thursday morning the Ravenna plant would close in January 2014. That closure will displace 164 workers.