Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, took issue in his April 6 online op-ed, “GE CEO: Bernie Sanders says we’re ‘destroying the moral fabric’ of America. He’s wrong,” with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for citing his company as an example of the corporate greed that is “destroying the moral fabric” of this country. As officers of a national union that has represented GE workers for 80 years, we can affirm, from our union’s experience and knowledge of GE, that Mr. Sanders is right.
Since 1999, GE has reduced its U.S. workforce by 37 percent, and since 2008 the company has closed more than 50 factories and facilities in the United States. In 1995, 68 percent of GE’s total employment was in the United States; by 2015 it was 38 percent. For a decade, GE has pursued a policy it calls the “competitive wage,” aimed at cutting the wage rates of its manufacturing workers in half, even as the pay of Mr. Immelt and other executives soars higher into the stratosphere.
GE is now the defendant in two lawsuits because it betrayed its promises to its now-retired employees, both professional and blue collar, by slashing their health-care benefits, enabling the company to pocket an additional $3.3 billion. Thanks to GE, the Hudson River has become a 200-mile long monument to corporate greed. From 1947 to 1977, GE dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs, a toxic legacy that is still with us, and has made the Hudson River, from Fort Edward to Lower Manhattan, the Environmental Protection Agency’s largest Superfund cleanup site.
In 2013, GE announced it would close the Fort Edward capacitor plant, dumping 200 employees and their communities, to relocate the work to a non-union plant in Clearwater, Fla., to cut wage rates in half. No doubt the meager wages of the Florida workers will be subsidized by taxpayer-funded food stamps and other poverty programs, which will amount to welfare for GE.
Since January at its Erie, Pa., locomotive plant, GE has laid off 1,384 workers, as it transfers production to a non-union location in “right-to-work” Texas, where it pays half the wage rates of Erie. The Department of Labor has told our local union in Erie that the ripple effect of the GE layoffs will affect as many as 18,000 jobs in the region.
Mr. Sanders is also correct about GE’s infamous success at evading taxes. In 2010, with $14.2 billion in profit, the company paid no federal income tax but instead received a $3.2 billion tax credit. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, GE from 2010 to 2014 paid a federal income tax rate of minus 4.3 percent on total profits of $33.5 billion. GE recently induced Massachusetts and Boston to offer the company at least $145 million in tax breaks and other giveaways to relocate its headquarters there.
Mr. Immelt claims that GE is “in the business of building real things and generating real growth” for our country. We fail to see how destroying communities, turning good jobs into poverty jobs and depriving your retired employees of health-care benefits generates “real growth” in anything but the company’s profits and executives pay. We agree with Mr. Sanders that corporate greed is destroying the moral fabric of America.
Peter Knowlton, Andrew Dinkelaker and Eugene Elk, Pittsburgh
The writers are, respectively, general president, general secretary-treasurer and director of organization for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.