The century-old relationship between General Electric and Fort Wayne has been flickering for years.
Now, company officials are even closer to snuffing it out.
GE on Monday announced plans to close its last two Fort Wayne operations, eliminating about 88 positions in one year as it moves the work to Monterrey, Mexico.
Officials said the company employs about 28 workers at a local motor testing lab and about 60 in its executive center on Coliseum Boulevard. They declined to say how much the workers are paid. Job titles include requisition engineers, designers, product managers, motor testers and skilled trades.
Consolidating operations into the manufacturing base, officials said, will enable the business to be more responsive and proactive with customers; to have tighter coordination with production schedules, material purchasing and service support; and be more cost-competitive.
The Fairfield, Conn.-based corporation entered the community in 1911 when it bought the former Jenney Electric Light Co. At one point, GE employed almost 10,000 locally at its Broadway campus, where 13 mostly vacant buildings remain on 32 acres.
GE officials have entered into a 60-day decision bargaining period with the International Union of Electrical Workers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The two-month period will allow union officials to make alternative proposals that will be considered by the company.
Company officials were careful to say the decision isnt final and they are going into the talks planning to bargain in good faith.
But the head of one of those locals isnt optimistic that the talks will prompt GE to scuttle the pullout. Its more a matter of making sure that local workers who find jobs at other GE locations dont lose credit for the years they spent in Fort Wayne, for example.
Our unions focus has turned into getting these guys who have poured a lifetime of their blood, sweat and tears into this business all the plant-closing and retirement benefits that are owed to them and their families, said Brent Eastom, president of IUE-CWA Local 901.
The local represents nine GE workers and about 740 BAE Systems employees. The machinists union has 22 local members at most, Eastom said. The remaining affected workers are salaried and not represented by a union.
Honestly, the writings been on the wall for more than 10 years, he said, referring to GEs history of moving jobs out of Fort Wayne over decades.
Some of Eastoms members have been with GE for almost 30 years. He described their reaction to Mondays announcement made by Pat Morello, general manager of the small industrial and specialty motor business, and Matt Conkrite, GE spokesman.
Theyve seen the work slowing down, Eastom said. I wouldnt say they were shocked or surprised. Its like, Oh, crap. It finally happened.
Bob Dunderman, a GE retiree, was local union president from 1975 to 1978, when it boasted 5,000 members. Before holding executive office with the union, he ran a winding machine in the transformer department.
He was almost puzzled Monday by the news that the company is moving all remaining work to Mexico.
Well, hell, they dont have much left, he said. They havent had production in Fort Wayne for years.
Dunderman, who celebrated his 72nd birthday Monday, considers himself lucky not to count on GE – or any other corporation – for a paycheck.
Im kind of glad Im retired now and dont have to face what these young kids face today, he said. I dont know what these kids are going to live on.
Even after GEs offices are closed, the company will have less than 20 sales associates working from their homes in the area, Morello said.
Officials havent decided what will happen with GEs local campus near downtown, Conkrite said.
GE is considering options for this location, and will continue to consult with both the mayors office and local economic development officials, he said in a statement. There is nothing new to report at this time.