While Ohio is traditionally thought of once being a center of auto manufacturing, there was such a strong tradition of light-bulb production in the state that the world's largest maker of light bulbs, General Electric, located the headquarters of its light bulb division in Cleveland. The jobs provided by light-bulb manufacturing allowed people to buy homes, send their kids to college, and fuel a vibrant economy in Ohio for decades.
But in the last decade, GE has closed over fifteen factories in Ohio and downsized numerous others. Since 1980, employment in GE Lighting has dropped by 68 percent.
A large chunk of that manufacturing has gone to China, and now GE plans to send even more to China in the wake of new clean energy policies. By 2014, Americans will only be able to purchase more energy efficient CFL light bulbs. However, GE has located all of its facilities for high-efficiency light bulbs to China and has told the union representing the workers that they have no intention to locate compact flourescent facilities in the United States.GE is currently threatening to close one factory in Niles, Ohio that produces light bulbs. The workers, members of United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) at one are calling on GE to look for a way to refit their plant so that they can be part of the new clean energy economy. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Tim Ryan wrote a letter to GE's CEO Jeffery Immelt expressing "deep concern" for the workers at the plant:
"The workers and tradition of the Niles facility present an enormous opportunity to show how we can transition manufacturers from contracting industries, like incandescent bulbs, to emerging industries in energy and medical IT."
Ohio could indeed be a hub of new light bulb production. Recently, a Chinese-owned manufacturer of high-efficiency light bulbs has opened a factory, citing Ohio as having some of the world's most highly skilled light-bulb workers.
Ohio's legacy of bulb production, and its factories that could easily be converted from incandescent production to CFL production, presents a grand opportunity to employ workers in building a green energy economy in Ohio.
The IMPACT Act introduced by Brown in the Senate would help small and medium-sized manufacturers transition to the clean energy economy. Brown's bill creates a $30 billion Manufacturing Revolving Loan Fund to provide these manufacturers with much-needed access to credit to improve energy efficiency and retool for the clean energy industry.
The Apollo Alliance--a coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups--estimates that the IMPACT Act could create 680,000 direct manufacturing jobs nationally and 1,972,000 related jobs over the next fiver year.
So far, GE has shown every intention to take the American tax dollars being used to subsidize the green-energy economy and use them to build Chinese factories and pay Chinese workers. As I wrote earlier this week, in spite of GE CEO Jeffery Immelt's statement that companies need to stop outsourcing, GE continues to lead the effort to outsource clean-energy jobs. Most recently, GE has cut off a contract with a windmill factory in Indiana and shipped the work to China despite the factory offering to sell their parts at the same price as their Chinese competitors.
To add insult to injury to workers losing their jobs from foreign outsourcing, GE has even launched a television ad campaign promoting American manufacturing. "GE has the ability to locate its new manufacturing for CFL's, LED's, as well as the new incandescent lighting technologies in Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S. So far they have not done this, and we see no sign that they are even considering doing this. GE Lighting workers in the U.S. see little to cheer in GE's pronouncements and feel good advertising because for several decades now every plant has been on an extended deathwatch," said Chris Townsend of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers.
It's time that CEO's like Jeffery Immelt live up to their word and help rebuild the American economy by keeping American manufacturing jobs in America. It's also time that we adopt a comprehensive policy that promotes American manufacturing and prevents companies like GE from using taxpayer funds intended to stimulate the American economy to undermine our economy instead.