Siemens Energy’s decision to abandon its Olean manufacturing operations will decimate a community that’s faithfully supported the facility for more than a century.
Hundreds of workers, including my two sons and me, will lose our jobs as the company discontinues production over the next 12 to 18 months.
I worry about my kids and all of the dedicated, highly-skilled men and women I’m proud to call co-workers. But I also fear for the many others in town destined to lose their livelihoods because of the cascading effects of Siemens’ greed.
About $1 million in weekly payroll will vanish with our jobs. When that money stops flowing into the community, dozens of businesses and institutions will suffer.
As more and more workers get termination notices, for example, the sandwich shops that deliver lunches to the plant every day will find themselves starved for orders.
And as many of us reluctantly leave town for jobs elsewhere, the town’s family-owned markets will ring up fewer sales. The restaurants where our families celebrate birthdays and anniversaries will see more empty tables. The schools that educate our children and grandchildren will grapple with holes in their budgets.
This doesn’t have to happen.
Siemens pumped tens of millions of dollars into plant upgrades in recent years, thanks partly to grants and incentives that members of this community helped to fund with tax dollars. The company’s former CEO, Lisa Davis, declared our efficient, highly-productive facility a “Siemens North American Center of Excellence for Manufacturing.”
The company led us to believe it would continue to call Olean home for many years to come.
Then it stabbed us all in the back.
Siemens, a profitable company, wants to end production here and pile our work onto other facilities just so it can generate higher returns for shareholders. It decided to cut and run without any consideration for the devastation it will leave behind.
The company left workers’ voices out of the decision-making process. And it dropped its bombshell announcement without consulting the United Steelworkers (USW), which represents about 340 of the 550 affected workers, or discussing the decision with the local, state and federal officials who supported the company for so many years.
The USW has demanded a meeting with Siemens to reiterate the competitive advantages Olean has over other facilities — and to remind the company that a loyal, skilled workforce remains foremost among them. The union also requested that Siemens’ top executives visit Olean to see the plant, meet workers and walk the town.
We’re still waiting for a response.
Some families have worked at the plant for four generations. Others will be hit extra hard because both spouses work there. Many families, including mine, have no idea what to do or where to go next.
My wife, Polly, and I grew up in Olean. We bought what we thought would be our forever home and spent thousands of dollars to make it just the way we wanted it. Now, we wonder if we’ll even be able to sell it if a new job means starting over somewhere else.
Olean will face an uphill battle finding a new use for the sprawling plant, not to mention funding roads, water and other services for remaining residents and businesses as the community’s tax base sharply declines.
When I drive to and from work these days, I worry about what the town will look like in a couple of years.
We spent generations building this community. Corporate greed threatens to bring it all crashing down.
(Tom Stimlinger, president of USW Local 4601, has worked at the Siemens Energy plant in Olean for 31 years.)