OLEAN — Union officials from the local to national level are reeling from plans to close down production at the Siemens Energy facility in North Olean.
Tom Stimlinger, president of United Steelworkers Local 4601 — representing around 350 of the 530 workers to be laid off as blue-collar production moves to other facilities while around 300 engineering, management and R&D jobs remain behind — said Wednesday that the shock of the decision still has not dissipated.
“Morale, as you’d imagine, is low,” he said. “I don’t even know what to think.”
Stimlinger said the union was notified that 54 workers will be laid off in the third quarter of the 2021 fiscal year — which ends June 30. After that, 127 will be laid off in the fourth quarter, ending Sept. 30; 50 more in the first quarter of fiscal 2022, ending Dec. 31, and 88 more in the second quarter of fiscal 2022, ending March 31.
The union contract has benefits for separations, Stimlinger said, but the union and company will hold negotiations over the next few weeks.
“We’ve got to go in and bargain for our closure benefits,” he said, with workers hoping to get more assistance at a time during a global pandemic.
And while it is expected that assistance from the state for retraining, unemployment and other services will be coming, “we’ve heard nothing on that as of today,” he said.
The shutdown of all production at the 99-year-old facility is hurt even more by the sheer number of families with multiple workers at the plant.
Stimlinger is set to mark 31 years at the plant in April, noting that his family — like others at the plant — has multiple generations employed there.
“There’s generations of families there,” he said. “Whole generations of families now — boom, done.”
Some workers drive from as far away as Arcade or Emporium, Pa., to work at the facility — with Stimlinger noting the effects of the lost jobs will go far beyond Olean.
“Everybody in a 40-, 50-mile radius — it’s going to affect them,” he said. “Look at the whole area … grocery stores, car lots, you name it. I don’t think people realize how bad it’s going to affect this area.”
LATE TUESDAY, USW officials at the upper levels of the union expressed outrage at the decision.
USW District 4 Director Del Vitale called Siemens’ decision to close the facility disrespectful to generations of workers who dedicated their careers to the company and to the community which has supported it.
“With almost 110 years of manufacturing history at stake, Siemens unilaterally determined our jobs and our community are expendable without consulting workers or notifying the union,” Vitale said. “We must urge management to reverse its catastrophic course.”
Vitale said that the USW would demand to negotiate over the company’s decision to close the facility and, if necessary, the effects of the closure.
“This plant supported our families and sustained this community for over 100 years, and Siemens owes the workers in Olean more consideration than it has given,” he said. “We will stand together to fight for respect and dignity for the men and women who built the company.”
USW International Secretary Treasurer John Shinn, who represents the union on the North American Siemens Labor Steering Committee, challenged the company for cutting employees’ voices out of the decision making process.
“We’re outraged that the USW was neither notified in advance nor offered an opportunity to meet with Siemens to discuss alternatives to closing Olean,” Shinn said. “We will stay united throughout this process, and our solidarity will be our best hope to preserve a measure of fairness and justice for workers and their families.”
(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)