Dozens of GE workers protested layoffs of 160 employees outside the company’s Bloomington plant Thursday morning.
GE announced earlier this month it was laying off the employees because of a 30 percent decline in side-by-side refrigerator sales since 2010.
Machine repair technician William Fairbairn organized the event in hopes that the company will reconsider their plans. He says the group has attempted to negotiate a plan where more eligible employees would retire. In that case, only 30 employees would be laid off.
Fairbairn says the current proposal, which includes layoff benefits packages, is unfair.
“Most of those folks have 25 years, and they feel that you don’t just take people for 25 years and just give them a little benefit of a year’s worth of package,” he says. “Then they have to go re-train at 55, 57, 58 years old. That’s not an option anymore. They need to bridge people to retirement. Let the people who can go, go.”
Union President Carven Thomas says the negotiations are headed in the right direction but it might be tough getting the attention of GE’s corporate office.
“When the company hands down the layoff notice, it’s a number on a page,” he says. “For me, it’s faces- not just the faces of the individuals impacted, but the faces of their kids, and those that depend on them. Their grandkids that depend on their families- the workers here, the members here, for their support. They see numbers, I see faces.”
GE officials say the drop in demand for side-by-side refrigerators has caused the plant to be idle for about 20 weeks a year and has cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.
“We simply must align employment levels to match consumer demand,” GE spokesperson Kim Freeman said in a statement. “The action will help preserve 360 good paying jobs and with significantly less idle time, remaining production employees’ annual wages will increase about 12 percent. We are committed to do everything we can to take care of the employees impacted by this announcement.”
The GE plant had been slated for closure in 2010, but instead the company decided to invest $93 million and create 200 jobs so the site could specialize in side-by-side refrigerators.
With the announcement of the layoffs, employees like Shelli Hoskins say the company knowingly lied.
“They promised us that they were going to hire 200 people, instead they’re letting 160 of us go. They promised basically jobs for our kids if they wanted them. That’s not happening,” Hoskins said.
The group plans to hold another rally next Saturday.