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800 IBEW Members Lose Jobs At MT Picture Display in N.Y.

January/February 2005 IBEW Journal

Only a few months ago, Thomson Inc. shut down their TV glass and tube plants in Indiana and Ohio, putting almost 1,400 IBEW members on the street. Now, another IBEW-represented TV maker in is following suit.

On December 29, MT Picture Display in Horseheads shut down, putting 800 more TV workersmembers of IBEW Local 1632out of work. Local 1632 is currently engaged in impact bargaining on severance pay and other issues with MT, a two-year-old joint venture between Japanese producers Toshiba and Matsushita, that employs 15,700 workers worldwide.

Roberta Sager, a single mother of four who has worked as a mechanic at MT for over 17 years, says: "I read the article on Thomson in the IBEW Journal twice, and, with only a few minor differences, this is the same thing all over again." (See "IBEW Members at Thomson Face Shutdown of TV Tube and Glass Plants," IBEW Journal, May 2004).

Sager, a Local 1632 executive board member, sees similarities in the way both corporations downsized, putting experienced managers on the street and bringing in inexperienced executives. But most of all, she sees the common thread of "outsourcing."

The 19-year-old MT plant, formerly Toshiba-Westinghouse, produced 32- and 36-inch cathode ray tubes. Competition from new plasma and liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs, which do not contain tubes, has gutted the market for 36-inch tubes. The 32-inch tube televisions are under fierce competition from manufacturers in Asia, the subject of a recent trade dispute.

The IBEW, IUE-CWA and Five Rivers Electronic Innovations, a U.S.-based TV assembler in Greeneville, Tennessee, filed an unfair trade case against China at the International Trade Commission (ITC) in 2003. In June 2004 the ITC held that U.S. TV manufacturers were being hurt by the import of TVs from China that are "dumped"sold below the cost of productionon the domestic market. (See "Unions, Manufacturer Win China Trade Dispute," IBEW Journal, July/August 2004). Anti-dumping duties of up to 78 percent were placed on more than $276 million worth of 21-inch screen and larger color televisions from China.

The ITC ruling, however, excluded other nations, including Malaysia. Small screen TVs are still flooding into the U.S. from low-wage countries, destroying the jobs of workers like the IBEW members in Horseheads.

Bill Jackson, business manager of Local 1632, says that MT could have upgraded the plant to produce a more competitive product, utilizing an incentive package designed by county and state sources, but chose to let it die. The facility, said Jackson, turned a small profit and actually exceeded productivity goals, a claim that was confirmed by plant managers interviewed in the Elmira Star-Gazette.

Sager remembers the company promising the work force two years of work and a ten-year "outlook." "We got nine months," she said. Workers were hopeful, she says, when Chemung County gave MT tax exemptions on goods and supplies in 1998 to finance a plant expansion. The company still owes seven million dollars to the Department of Housing and Urban Development on a loan that was made to help finance the Westinghouse-Toshiba joint venture in 1985.

With one of her sons in college, Sager is weighing the options of looking for work or re-training for another job. Looking for work is difficult because so many employers in the area have already cut back or shut down production.

As for retraining, Sager questions whether money will be available under Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a federal program for workers displaced due to foreign imports that is funded, in part, by the states. TAA provides books and tuition for workers who are currently collecting state unemployment benefits to retrain for work that is in demand in local areas.

After a letter-writing campaign by Local 1632, the petition to the federal government to qualify Local 1632 members for TAA was approved. However, Sager says, "Thirty-two manufacturers have shut down in New York this year." Since many of their employees are already collecting unemployment benefitsand since the benefits are "first come, first served"other workers could "run the kitty dry" of TAA funds from New York State, leaving nothing to MT workers.

Jackson contends that TAA funding by the states is politically driven. Some legislators in states considered "battlegrounds" enhanced TAA monies to entice voters to support their candidate.

Funding for TAA and worker retraining has been an issue of contention between the Bush administration and organized labor. In July 2004, the AFL-CIO published an issue brief entitled "Breaking Faith With Workers: The Bush Labor Departments Improper Denials of Trade Adjustment Assistance."

Lobbying for TAA, and the locals impact bargaining are critical, says Sager, because "We want workers to walk away with dignity."