GE Pride - Generations Await Decision on Jobs - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather and Events

GE Pride - Generations Await Decision on Jobs

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The end of "decision bargaining" talks between GE Transportation and its union workers is just about a month away. Employees are holding their breath for the outcome and hoping to minimize the blow of the company's stated plan to move 1,000 jobs and shift the production of the Evolution series locomotive and mining equipment to Fort Worth Texas. 

It's not just the current work force waiting to hear the outcome of the talks.  Thousands of Erie people who built their lives and careers while designing and building GE locomotives, parts and other products are waiting too.  You might call them GE's greatest generation and they are concerned about the company.

"I'd hoped when I heard about the Texas plant initially that this was going to be a way of balancing the volume of work, that there'd be enough of an increase of volume of this type of manufacturing that we would need a second facility," said Don Adams, a GE retiree with 42 years of service at the plant. 

Like many generations of local GE employees, Adams got his start with the company through the GE apprentice program.  He moved from machining to drafting, to design drafting and into management at the company, earning a couple of patents along the way.  "I was an apprentice on the low end of the totem pole, worked my way up through a management position and now I'm a stockholder in the company and I've been in the union so I have kind of the whole picture over time," said Adams. 

Adams' father, an engineer at GE, was involved in starting the apprentice program at the plant. Don Adams not only was trained in the apprentice program, he went on to teach drafting in it.  And he taught other young employees through the company's night school.  One of his students, Ken Berlin went on to become foreman of final assembly at the plant and then manager of light fabrication, the division that made the exterior of the locomotives.  "I started on the apprentice program, finished GE night school, took advantage of their college program," said Berlin. At that time if you wanted to go to college and got your grades, they'd pay 100% of your technical courses." Berlin received his college degree from Gannon, with General Electric paying for his tuition.

According to Berlin, GE workers heard talk about jobs going to Texas for years, but didn't take it seriously.  "There used to be a sign down in that area, future home of the GE locomotive that people used to come back and show, the billboard that they used to have in the '70's and '80's, we used to just laugh about it, but uh, it's serious now."

Berlin has a son and granddaughter working at the Erie GE plant now, he's concerned about the future of the company he helped to build.  "It's very sad when you see the top management leave Erie...before top management was kind of homegrown, now they're in Chicago, so they don't have the same commitment, I believe," said Berlin.

Lawrence Park is watching closely too.  Historian Marge McLean knows better than most people that General Electric literally built the town for its employees to live in. "GE founded Lawrence Park, it was their plan to build a community for their workers that would essentially be a garden community, where they would have a boulevard, green space to separate the company from the town."  But McLean says Lawrence Park's connection to the community is shrinking.  At one time 18,000 people worked at GE, that number has dwindled to 5,000 over the decades. According to township estimates, only 5% of the people who live in Lawrence Park work at the company.

Adams hopes the company weighs very heavily the value of the human element in its decisions. "The families that have worked at the company, these skills kind of pass on from generation to generation, the work ethic passes on and the pride in this company, the pride in making a good product, there's just no price tag that you can put on that."

(Don Adams is the father of Reporter/Anchor Lisa Adams.  Lisa worked packing parts at a GE warehouse one summer in the 1970's when she was college student.)

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