General Electric’s recent decision to close its longtime Peterborough facility cast a long shadow over the annual Labour Day Picnic in Peterborough on Monday.
The company’s Aug. 25 announcement will mean more than 350 employees will be out of work in the fall of 2018. Fifty engineers will remain at the facility for other projects. The closure was blamed on a sharp decline for the company’s manufactured products. GE has been in Peterborough for more than 125 years.
“They are leaving quite a legacy of contamination and so they need to foot that bill and they need to do it up front and they need to do it sooner than later,” said Marion Burton, president of the Peterborough and District Labour Council.
At its peak in the 1960s, GE employed 6,000 workers in Peterborough. Throughout its history, the company developed a reputation as a strong employer and being charitable in the community, Burton said.
But many former employees and their families are looking for compensation for work illnesses and diseases they say were contracted at the plant due to toxic conditions.
And there is a push to keep those 350 jobs in Canada despite the closure announcement.
“If they want to consolidate operations than we say they do it here in Canada,” said Bob Orr, secretary-treasurer for Unifor.
“So we have put them on notice that just coming in here and bargaining a closure agreement is not acceptable. We need these jobs in the community. They are good paying jobs.”
Peterborough city Coun. Keith Riel worked at GE for more than 30 years and was a former union president. He says all levels of government need to come together to find a solution to the employment issues plaguing the city.
In July, the area’s 9.6 per cent unemployment rate was tops in Canada.
“What’s going to happen now? What are the jobs they are going to bring to Peterborough?” asked Riel. “And certainly, the jobs that pay this kind of salary and pensions and benefits. I’d like to see our MP, our MPP, mayor, and director of economic development form a task force and keep these jobs here.”
Unifor president Gerry Diaz is currently in Mexico taking part in the second round of North America Free Trade Agreement talks but Orr confirms a task force will be made to try to convince GE to keep its factory in Peterborough.