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GE, union talks save jobs at Bloomington plant

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Negotiations between GE and union officials have slightly reduced the number of job cuts being made at the company's southern Indiana refrigerator factory.

About 130 workers at the GE Appliances factory in Bloomington will no longer have jobs effective Friday, although that number is down from about 160 jobs the company announced in early September, The Herald-Times reported.

Discussions between the sides led to a total of 56 layoffs and 75 early retirements, which saves some of the factory's jobs, said Carven Thomas, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2249.

"The company agreed to keep 25 additional people as a result of the negotiations," Thomas said. "It was probably one of the hardest negotiations I've been through."

The 75 employees taking early retirement means 57 percent of the job cuts are retirements. GE expected 35 percent of the cuts to come from early retirements when it announced them.

GE officials blamed the job cuts on a 30-percent decline since 2010 in demand for the side-by-side refrigerators made at the factory, which had about 520 workers when the cuts were announced. The company touted plans three years ago for a $161 million investment and 200 more jobs at the Bloomington plant, but it says the sales decline caused it to drop those plans.

Frank Scheffel, the Bloomington plant operations manager, said the cuts were needed to make the factory more competitive.

"Our employees have done everything we asked to help counter a declining side-by-side refrigeration industry, but, at the end of the day, reducing our workforce was the best solution for the long-term future of the business," he said.

The average age of the Bloomington plant's union workers will be 55 after the cuts are completed because of several rounds of seniority-based layoffs over the years, Thomas said.

"The seniority level of the people affected has never been this high," Thomas said. "Putting 25-year, 26-year people out on the streets, that was one of the toughest things we've had to do."
 

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