1,700 members of United Electrical (UE) in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, are taking strike action to defend to defend their collective agreement as GE plant is sold.
The GE Transportation company, a subsidiary of General Electric, was sold to Wabtec on 25 February. The union wants the new owner to honour the existing collective bargaining agreement until a new agreement can be negotiated.
Wabtec, a Pittsburgh-based multinational railway equipment supplier that operates in 50 countries, has imposed new terms and conditions which include mandatory overtime and wages up to 38 per cent lower for new hires. Wabtec also plans to replace up to 20 per cent of its workforce with low-paid, temporary workers.
The company makes transport equipment, particularly locomotives, for the railway, marine, mining, drilling and energy generation industries. It is the first strike at the factory since 1969. About 23,000 locomotives are in active use, with 70 per cent under long-term service agreements. Wabtec plans to develop new digital technologies to control speed, switching, and other aspects of locomotive control.
Production workers at the Erie plants are represented by UE Local 506, while EU Local 618 represents white collar staff. The UE is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union
“We are extremely disappointed that the company could not see its way to agree to continue the terms and conditions that we have worked under for decades. Their refusal leaves us with no choice but to go out on strike to protect our members’ and our children’s future,” said Scott Slawson, President of UE Local 506.
The workers have received solidarity support from the local community and other union locals, as well as from around the world. US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders sent a message of support.
Karlene Torrance, president of UE Local 618, said, “We are grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from our friends, neighbours and community in Erie.”
In a letter to Wabtec CEO Raymond Betler, Valter Sanches and Luc Triangle, general secretaries of IndustriALL Global and Europe respectively, wrote:
“Wabtec’s merger with GE Transportation should not be used to try to take away any of the hard-fought gains our UE brothers and sisters have achieved over these many decades. Their skills and experience in locomotive building are second to none and they should be compensated as such.”