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Interchange – The Wages of Labor: Bloomington’s Industrial Past

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This week on Interchange, host Trish Kerle speaks with Carrol Krause, author of Showers Brothers Furniture Co: The Shared Fortunes of a Family, a City, and a University and Joe Varga, Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University and a labor and social justice activist.

Since the 1870s, Bloomington has been shaped by the ebb and flow of industrialization – and de-industrialization, beginning with the Showers Brothers Furniture Company, followed by the RCA radio and television factory, right up to today with what appears to be – the fading presence of General Electric. Krause and Varga talk about the history of those companies, their impact on the city, and the rise of organized labor in Bloomington.

Local GE Appliance Plant Working With Union To Eliminate 160 Production Jobs

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Local management and labor at the Bloomington GE Appliance plant are currently working out how the elimination of 160 production jobs will be handled.

On September 9, management announced that approximately 35 percent of the job shedding will be through early retirement provisions and the rest, around 100, will be laid off.

Since then, workers at the plant held rallies demanding there be no layoffs, and instead that GE cut its workforce only through early retirement and natural attrition.

WFHB requested interviews with GE, and instead received written statements reiterating what was already said.

We were able to speak to Carven Thomas, president of Bloomington Local 2249 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents the production workers at the local GE facility.

He talked about his local’s suggestion to management on the Special Early Retirement Option, and other means to avoid layoffs.

“We have a lot of folks in our building that are eligible to retire,” Thomas says, “If the company allowed a voluntary early retirement option for our 60-year-olds, only 30 workers would have to be laid off.”

The early retirement option would apply to any worker 55 years or older with 25 years of service at GE.

The union suggestion is designed not only to lessen the financial penalty of layoffs, but to allow older workers to retire early and keep younger workers on the job and the payroll.

Thomas told us that management said the cost of their suggestion was prohibitive.

“They’re saying it would cost $340,000 for each person to retire,” Thomas says.

Nevertheless, the union-management meetings have produced some increase in the number of employees who will be shed through early retirement packages.

“There won’t be as many as we would like, and we’re still in the process of negotiating more early retirements,” Thomas says.

GE management has been meeting with the union every day, and Thomas says he hopes they will continue until the union gets a good enough offer for a decision to be made.

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