GE announces intent to close plant in Lexington; 125 employees affected

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2009 

Employees of GE Consumer & Industrial's Kentucky Glass Plant on Loudon Avenue in Lexington got word Thursday that the parent company intends to close the plant by the end of July 2010.

The proposed action would affect 125 employees.

The plant makes glass bulbs called "envelopes" for incandescent light bulbs. It has been operating since 1946.

Officials of the company said that legislation calling for higher energy-efficient light bulbs in the United States and throughout the world is making standard incandescent light bulbs obsolete. The costs of manufacturing incandescent bulbs also is increasing.

In recent years, the Lexington plant has seen declines in volume of up to 20 percent a year because of changes in energy standards and the economic recession, they said.

"Over time, our volume continues to drop and drop and drop to where we're running at about 50 percent capacity," GE spokeswoman Julie Wood said of the Loudon Avenue plant.

Some of the employees of the Loudon facility have worked there for more than 30 years. In 2001, thought to be a peak employment year at the plant, there were 171 employees, she said.

"We are not shocked, but we are surprised," plant manager Tom Billups said of the announcement. "We had seen it coming. ... It doesn't lighten the fact that it's still very difficult for our employees."

Sandy Garrett, who has worked on the floor of the plant for 22 years but is now on disability leave, said she heard about the possibility of the plant closing on the local news. Garrett said she wasn't shocked to hear that the plant could close. "It's been rough for about a year," she said.

The company's Lexington Lamp Plant at 1801 Edison Drive, which has 159 employees, is not slated for closing, Wood said.

"They make completely different products and serve different customers," she said.

The Loudon Avenue plant is one of three GE plants proposed Thursday for closing. GE also announced Thursday that it intended to close its incandescent assembly plant in Winchester, Va., which has 203 employees, and its glass plant in Niles, Ohio, which has 109 employees, Wood said.

The proposed July 2010 date for closure of the Loudon Avenue plant is due to a union contract requirement. The company's agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers stipulates a one-year notice, Billups said.

"If the union chooses, there is a 60-day decision bargaining period that will give the union the opportunity to present alternatives to the plant closing," he added.

The Loudon Avenue plant has already had temporary layoffs of up to two weeks at a time this year, and there could be more temporary layoffs before July 2010, the plant manager said.

If the Loudon Avenue plant closes, 56 percent of its employees will be eligible for a special early retirement package; all of the employees will be eligible for plant-closing benefits.

All employees will receive medical and dental insurance coverage for a year. Hourly and non-exempt employees will have the opportunity to receive preferential placement status for three years at up to 10 other GE locations in the country.

Those who accept placement at one of those locations will be eligible for transfer assistance benefits of up to $7,000 for an employee with dependents and up to $3,500 for an employee without dependents. GE will also offer up to $12,500, payable within three years, in education and retraining assistance.

A job placement assistance program will also be available.

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