Peterborough General Electric plant to stop manufacturing, shed 358 jobs

More than 350 workers at a General Electric plant in Peterborough, Ont., will be losing their jobs as the 125-year-old facility ceases manufacturing next year.

Kim Warburton, a spokeswoman for GE Canada, said a drop in global demand for the company’s goods prompted the decision that was announced Friday.

The plant currently produces large engines for the oil and mining industries. Sales volume at the plant has fallen by 60 per cent over the last four years, Warburton said.

“There’s just no way we can keep going with that business model,” she said.

The plant — GE’s first in Canada — will lose 358 manufacturing workers by the fall of 2018, Warburton said.

“It’s been a really tough day. But the businesses had to make that decision,” she said.

An engineering division of the plant will remain in operation, with 50 engineering service workers employed, Warburton noted.

Unifor, the union which represents the plant’s workers, accused GE of outsourcing production to the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, and Mexico.

“General Electric has been an integral part of Peterborough’s history for over a century,” Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, said in a statement. “Now the company is rewarding the loyalty of the community by pulling up the stakes and moving jobs out of the country.”

The union said it will begin negotiating a closure agreement with GE in mid-September.

Daryl Bennett, the mayor of Peterborough, called the news a “drastic reversal” from an announcement made by GE in 2014 that it would be adding 250 new jobs to build motors for the TransCanada Energy East pipeline.

“It will be a difficult time for many residents who are connected with GE or who have historical ties to the company,” Bennett said in a statement released by his office on Friday.

Warburton said GE will offer counselling, retraining, and help with retirement planning to those who are losing their jobs.

“Our focus is definitely on our workers,” she said.

The plant, founded by famous inventor Thomas Edison, has been open since 1892. During the 1960s, it was one of Canada’s largest factories, employing more than 6,500 people.

The plant also gained a level of notoriety as retirees from the facility claimed illnesses linked to exposure to toxins inside the factory.

A lengthy report conducted by researchers hired by the union representing plant workers found exposure to more than 3,000 toxic chemicals from 1945 to 2000 and significant health problems among former employees.

Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn has called on the worker’s compensation board to “bring justice” to about 300 former workers whose health claims were previously denied.

GE has said it is co-operating with the worker’s compensation board, the agency that evaluates and pays claims. The company has not conceded that any illnesses were caused by working at the plant and says chemicals were used in what were believed to be safe ways at the time.

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