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Help for GE workers is team's focus
Local leaders look at what employees need to move on if plant closes as planned

By Sarah Morin | 331-4363 |
March 3, 2008

Life without a GE plant in Bloomington — or its 896 jobs.

Local leaders met again Monday at City Hall to discuss how to best prepare for it, primarily focusing on worker assistance in terms of counseling, social services, job training and education.

The goal of the GE community response team, which formed in January after the company announced its plan to shut down by late 2009, is to provide help and assistance at the local level to be integrated with the state’s rapid response team.

The local team’s concentration areas are: employee assistance, community financial impact and site reutilization of the plant.

The General Electric Co. refrigerator plant is still open on Curry Pike, as are negotiations to keep it open under a decision bargaining period.

“I’m not holding my breath,” said local GE union president Bill Mitchell.

The 60-day bargaining period, in which suggestions to save the plant can come forward, ends in two weeks.

Mitchell told the team that negotiations on how to save the plant money have been going on for two to three years.

At issue is how to help GE employees move on without GE and letting them know those options. Representatives from both Indiana University and Ivy Tech spoke about continuing education classes and training resources.

“It’s our commitment to handle this. It’s our mission to handle this,” said Ivy Tech Bloomington Chancellor John Whikehart.

Several former GE workers, who experienced past layoffs at the plant, have turned to Ivy Tech after leaving behind lives on the refrigerator assembly line.

In fact, the GE response team is looking at past plant closings such as the Thomson TV plant about a decade ago to figure out what worked and what can be done better with GE. A stated team goal is to become a best-practices model, a template that can be used for any future closings no matter the size of the company.

At the top of the template is employee assistance in terms of counseling and other help after losing a job. A list of contacts, including financial experts, is being prepared. Barry Lessow, executive director of United Way of Monroe County, said requests for assistance tend to spike right before a plant closes.

Mayor Mark Kruzan said if there is any one message he wants to get across, it’s to break down any stigma attached to counseling.

“I think any one of us would go through the same stress and turmoil,” he said.

While late 2009 might be the projected date for the GE plant to close, years of work and providing assistance will follow. “That’s not the end of the process,” said Richard Rampley of WorkOne. ”That’s just the end of the beginning of the process.”

Mitchell urged the team to get started on site reutilization and to not wait until the formal bargaining period is over.

Ron Walker, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corp., is leading the team’s task force in charge of what to do with the massive 80-acre site. The goal, he said, is to bring employment there. He also noted that the site is across the street from ABB, another manufacturing plant that shut down years ago and has been demolished.

Another business leader is looking at the community impact if the plant closes. Christy Gillenwater, president of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, is reviewing social services support — GE is one of the largest donors to United Way — and how GE’s absence will affect property tax revenues and other funds.


GE Response Team

Monday was the second meeting since the company said it plans to close down the refrigerator plant on Bloomington’s west side. The 20 members helping to develop a community action plan are:

-- Mark Kruzan, Bloomington mayor
-- Patrick Stoffers, Monroe County commissioners president
-- Bill Mitchell, president of the GE union
-- Danise Alano, City of Bloomington economic development director
-- Lynn Coyne, vice president for real estate, Indiana University
-- Trent Deckard, field representative for U.S. Rep. Baron Hill
-- Christy Gillenwater, CEO, Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce
-- Vic Kelson, president of the Monroe County Council
-- Barry Lessow, executive director of the Monroe County United Way
-- Joyce Poling, Monroe County commissioner
-- Kevin Robling, Bloomington corporation counsel and chief of staff
-- Richard Rampley, program director, WorkOne
-- Susan Sandberg, president of the Bloomington City Council
-- Ron Walker, president, Bloomington Economic Development Corp.
-- Peggy Welch, state representative
-- Vi Simpson, state senator
-- Matt Pierce, state representative
-- John Whikehart, chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College
-- Kirk White, director of community relations for Indiana University
-- Jackie Yenna, president of the White River Central Labor Council