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CPBJ Extra Blog

GE has some issues in Pa. and Mass.

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This is a familiar fight in the manufacturing world. Company X vs. Union Y. The stakes: Massive job cuts and the competitiveness of any a factory.

In this case, X represents General Electric Co. and Y is the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.

The place: Erie, Pa., where the company says as many as 950 union and 100 management jobs will be cut, with the first of the layoffs scheduled to begin in early November, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, which this month received GE's notice of the mass layoff.

First up are about 500 workers from the facility there that makes trains for GE Transportation. The union and company couldn't find a compromise after GE requested bargaining agreement concessions in order to keep more jobs in Erie.

GE says the moves are necessary to keep the Erie plant competitive, but the union says there's no reason to open negotiations on a contract that still has two years left on it.

Points decision: Punt. Any time two parties go to a table for a compromise and come out without one, I see it as both sides losing.

In July, GE Transportation received a $108 million order for train kits from South African Trans-Net S.O.C. Ltd., according to Erie's NBC affiliate WICU 12.

Seems such orders have been pretty good for GE Transportation overall. In the first six months of this year, it brought in more than $3 billion in revenue, a 6 percent improvement from the same period in 2012, according to the company. Segment profit was $580 million for the first half of the year, or 13 percent better than 2012.

Those are some big numbers.

That's not so unusual for the transportation manufacturing sector as a whole. Transportation equipment had $477 billion in new orders year to date in July, a 5.2 percent increase from 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's manufacturing reports.

Transportation equipment manufacturers shipped more than $463 billion worth of vehicles and parts year to date, a 7.2 percent increase from last year, according to the Census Bureau.

I guess I'm kind of wondering what it is about GE's Erie workforce that makes the company think they need to rework contracts early. The company isn't performing poorly in this sector, the factory is taking orders and GE already has an agreement with its workers.

But GE has problems elsewhere, too.

For a company known for innovation in the mechanical and electrical fields, GE seems to have problems finding innovative solutions to the environmental pollution it has produced over the decades.

It's preparing to battle environmental groups over the cleanup of the carcinogenic PCBs in the Housatonic River, according to the Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts.

Innovation in manufacturing, it seems, is a double-sided coin.

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