Under the Hat: The End of an Age - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Under the Hat: The End of an Age

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Rarely do you go to bed in one era and wake up in another.

Change comes slowly, over time, and often historians have to make broad strokes on the calendar to define things like the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution.

It wouldn't surprise me if years from now some local historian points to this week as the end of an age in Erie or at least the beginning of the end of an age.

General Electric unions across the country are voting for, and approving a new four year national contract; Erie's UE local 506 approving the new pact on Wednesday.

Many union negotiations start with great bluster; the company will cry broke and ask for givebacks as the workers produce profit statements.

One side says pay freeze and the other demands 6 percent.

After a lot of wringing of hands and rattling of sabers they shake hands at three percent and go about their business.

Not this time.

This time General Electric offered fundamental shifts in the core relationship between the company and its 15,000 unionized workers.

Those changes include pushing a substantial piece of the cost of health care to active workers and denying entry into the company's pension plan for any new hires.

Those newcomers would instead be offered a 401k-type plan.

The math would indicate that when the last of the pensioners are gone, the pension will be gone too.

Depending on your side of the line, you could call this a realignment to meet a modern world; one with global pressures and small, highly trained and high tech work forces.

Or you might simply view this as more corporate greed; the further eroding of the rights of the working man; shaddup and just be glad you have a job.

But there's little doubt that General Electric is not inventing the pressures it faces in the Brave New World.

Plans to build a smaller, more state-of-the-art locomotive plant in Texas, a right-to-work state, are proof enough that the times they are a'changin.'

The heyday of the large industrial plants with thousands of union workers may well be behind us.

In that light the new GE contract could be viewed, not as good or bad, but as inevitable.

Not an end to manufacturing here, surely, but perhaps to this business model of manufacturing.

And it could also mark the beginning of the end of the last gasp, of Erie's industrial glory days too.

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