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General Electric to close plants, cut 130 jobs

US General Electric said Thursday the Austintown Products Plant and Niles Glass Plant are to be shut down Nov. 1, 2008, with production shipped to foreign plants or outside suppliers like Mexico, Hungary.

The company’s Mahoning Glass Plant, also located in Niles, and Ohio Lamp Plant in Warren are to remain open. Those plants employ a total of 470. Janice Fraser, a General Electric spokesman, raised the possibility that the plants set to the closed could be saved. She said union officials have 60 days to present alternative ways of operating the plants that would make them competitive.

Dennis Hayda, a steward for United Electrical Workers in Niles, said he hopes union officials could meet with the company soon to determine if there’s a way of saving the plants. “We’re willing to do whatever it takes to keep our jobs,” he said. Stephen Tormey, a national official with the union, said, however, that he isn’t aware of GE’s ever rescinding a plant closing. He accused GE of mismanaging its lighting business, first by merging its lighting division into its consumer and industrial products division and then by not reinvesting in its lighting plants. Fraser said the local closings are part of a global restructuring of GE’s business. Five plants are being closed in the US, Mexico and Brazil. The Austintown plant, which has 73 workers, is one of three plants that make filaments for incandescent bulbs. Fraser said production volumes for these bulbs are down, so the company now can fill all of its orders at the other plants, which are in Mexico and Hungary.

Governments around the world are enacting laws that require more energy-efficient lighting, she said. Compact fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFLs, are gaining in popularity. Wal-Mart said this week that it has sold 100 million CFLs. Union officials launched a campaign in May that asked GE to invest in new technology at US plants so CFLs could be made domestically. GE said it would have to sell the bulbs for 50% higher than its competition if it tried to make them domestically. At the Niles Glass Plant, work is being sent to outside suppliers, which can make the products for less, Fraser said. The plant, which employs 57, produces glass for high-intensity lights such as street lights. The Niles plant typically is shut down 13 weeks a year because of low orders, Fraser said. GE said 45% of the Austintown employees and 54% of the Niles employees are eligible for retirement packages. All employees would be eligible for plant-closing benefits, including severance pay. In all, the GE closings would eliminate 1,400 jobs, including 925 in Brazil. (