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Union leader: Elected officials should be "ashamed" of response to GE

Updated: 11/22/2013 8:06 PM
Created: 11/22/2013 7:50 PM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch

FORT EDWARD – The governor, state and federal lawmakers did not do enough to stop the impending closure of General Electric’s plant on Route 4, union leaders said Friday.

GE announced this week it will close the plant no sooner than September 2014, shifting manufacturing operations to Clearwater, Fla. About 200 people will lose their job.

"The elected officials have walked away from us," Scott Gates, president of United Electrical Local 332, told NewsChannel 13. "Everybody is working behind the scenes, they tell us. Well, work with us."

Responding to the criticism, U.S. Rep. Bill Owens (D – Plattsburgh) said his office contacted GE during the 60 days of bargaining between the company and the union.

"We requested that they negotiate in accordance with the terms of their contract and look for another use for the facility," Owens said.

Asked if GE is wrong to close, Owens -- who received a U.S. Chamber of Commerce award Friday for his pro-business voting record – called it "a business decision."

State Sen. Betty Little (R – Queensbury) said she tried, in writing, to persuade GE to extend the bargaining period by 30 days: a request the company ultimately denied.

"I wrote a letter to the president and asked for an extension," Little said. "They actually said the extension wasn’t going to change anything."

Gates, the union president, said Little’s comment confirms what he long suspected: that GE made its decision to close the plant long before the bargaining ended. 

New York’s U.S. Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the closure, a Schumer spokeswoman pointed out Friday.

"Now, it is incumbent on GE to bend over backwards to offer positions in nearby operations to these workers who have performed so ably for GE," the statement said, in part.

But Angel Sardinia, the union’s business agent, said letters and statements do not suffice. He said the elected officials should have been more aggressive in trying to save the jobs.

"This community is going to be devastated, so you think… all the politicians (would) be interested in saving jobs," Sardina said.

"NOWHERE TO BE FOUND"

The union reserved his harshest criticism for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. At a press conference Sunday, Gates said the governor’s office was "nowhere to be found" during the bargaining period.

A Cuomo aide later called the union’s region president, Peter Knowlton, to complain about the criticism of the governor, Knowlton told NewsChannel 13.

That exchange led to a Monday meeting between union leaders and Alfonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary for civil rights, Knowlton said.

Knowlton said he asked David why the governor’s office pushed for new jobs at GE’s Schenectady battery plant, but could not save the jobs at the Fort Edward capacitor plant.

David responded that creating jobs and saving jobs are two different things, Knowlton said.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined to comment on the conversation between David and Knowlton.

Azzopardi bristled at the criticism of the Administration, noting that officials from the state Department of Labor and Empire State Development met with the union on several occasions during the bargaining period.

Azzopardi referred NewsChannel 13 to a statement he issued on Sunday.

"The governor’s office and relevant state agencies have been in active and continuous discussions with GE and the union," Azzopardi said.

"We’ve made it clear to all parties that we will continue to engage and hope that they can reach an amicable resolution for the residents of the region and the company," he said.

In the end, the union leaders said all of the elected officials – Cuomo, Schumer, Gillibrand, Owens, Little, and other lawmakers – should have done more.

"They ought to be ashamed for their inaction," Gates said.

By comparison, the union praised Fort Edward Mayor Matthew Traver, Fort Edward Supervisor Mitchell Suprenant, and Warren County EDC President Ed Bartholomew for their support.

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