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GE Closing - Taking the first step forward

Community leaders start planning how to help those affected by GE closure plan
By James Boyd 331-4307 |

January 18, 2008

Less than 24 hours after learning he and hundreds of other GE employees would likely lose their jobs next year, Bill Mitchell found himself in City Hall, in front of a room full of some of the city’s biggest players.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2249 president was face-to-face with Mayor Mark Kruzan, state Rep. Matt Pierce, Monroe County Council President Vic Kelson and 25 others from government, social services, educational institutions and employment agencies.

Kruzan said Mitchell set the tone for the meeting, showing optimism in what could be considered a time of despair.

“We’ve been given the gift of time,” Mitchell told the group.

The nearly 30-strong contingent met Friday afternoon to help begin the long, arduous process of finding ways to alleviate the effects of losing nearly 900 jobs before the end of 2009.

Though there remains a chance that an intervention could occur — union officials have 60 days to present a plan to GE that would allow their remain open — most seem resigned to the fact that there is little chance it will happen.

Friday’s meeting was simply the first step in addressing the situation. “This literally is day one of what will be a long process,” the mayor said.

But some attendees came away with a sense of optimism.

“As sad and difficult as it was,” Bloomington Economic Development Corp. President Ron Walker said, “it was promising to see that level of cooperation.”

Kruzan said those at the meeting discussed various ways to help workers both now and in the long term.

“The specifics were to get an update from both the labor union and from management on the next 60 days and what can be done,” he said.

After that, they spent a little time assessing the community assets for workers who would be laid off.

“We talked about what type of services we can make available to help those during their transition,” Walker said. “But first we have to see how any continuing discussions between union leaders and GE evolve over the next 60 days.”

Some of that help could include: unemployment assistance, trade adjustment assistance, job fairs and utilizing the Workforce Investment Act to assist both job-seekers and employers.

Communication will also be key.

Explaining to workers what their options are, where they can turn and who they can turn to will all play critical roles in how the situation is handled.

“There are great stories over at Ivy Tech that need to be shared with those employees,” Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce said. “There are opportunities that will exist.”

Ivy Tech-Bloomington could be a significant contributor in re-educating former GE employees. “When GE experienced its layoffs a couple years back, we wrote letters to affected employees, we went to the plant to do academic advising, and we did academic assessments with them,” Ivy Tech-Bloomington Chancellor John Whikehart said.

“One of the most important things we’ll be able to do is show them a number of people who were previously laid off who came to us, completed an educational journey with us, and work here now.

“It’d be one thing for me or any other Ivy Tech representative to go and stand up and say ‘We’ll work on this with you.’ It’ll be something different entirely to have someone stand up and say ‘You can do this, because I’ve been there, and I’ve done it.’”

Whikehart, who attended the meeting, pointed out that two of the Bloomington campus’ top information technology people are displaced GE workers who went through Ivy Tech’s computer program.

In the long term, Kruzan said, the city will have to look at the financial impact of the closure and how to use the GE site. Friday, though, the main priority was identifying methods of employee assistance that can be utilized soon.

“Everyone knows there’s this (60 day) window of opportunity,” Kruzan said. “The great uncertainty is when the letting go of people would have to begin. Can they go all the way to the end, or will this be done in phases?”

Kruzan said he will form a coordinating team to address the needs of those affected by the closure. That team is expected to be composed of many of those who were at the meeting.

It will be modeled after the way the city handled the Thomson closing, he said.

“This is an ongoing process. We’re going to be here long after the initial headlines subside.”