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Shutdown Column:  When your dad works at Wabtec, you worry

By Kaitlyn Kozalla, senior publications editor

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Kaitlyn Kozalla

In early 2019, Wabtec Corporation completed its merger with former General Electric transportation in Erie. Since then, Wabtec’s corporate greed has put employees through a roller coaster of unemployment and layoffs. I have witnessed this first hand because my father is employed as a machinist there. 

In 2016, General Electric cut nearly 1,500 employees, and another 575 positions were lost in August 2017. In September of 2017, I attended a rally with my family on State Street in the Labor Day parade to spread hope and show commitment to my father’s union. During past years, the General Electric company had been shifting to Fort Worth, Texas, where workers are not represented by a union. 

On March 3, 2019, I picketed with my family and many union members to show support after a nine-day lockout, which was passed by the union the day after the purchase was made official. United Electric members were at risk of a wage cut of almost forty percent, mandatory overtime and the relegating of 20 percent of workers to part-time positions with no benefits. 

The two-tier wage system was the main reason these members picketed, as former GE employees would retain their wages, while new employees would have their wages slashed. Employees who were laid off and later returned would also suffer the wage cut. 

Since this lockout, many issues including revolving wages have been resolved, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that corporate greed has struck again. Since Governor Tom Wolf announced the closing of all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania on March 16, Wabtec obtained a waiver to keep up with production. With 20 confirmed cases in Erie county, most companies are creating safer workplace environments, but it seems as though Wabtec is falling behind. 

New hand-washing stations have been installed, workstations are distanced where possible, and bottles of hand sanitizer have been distributed, but these measures fall far short of what Wabtec Corporation should be doing to protect its employees.

Being the largest employer in Erie, Wabtec should enforce better precautionary measures instead of packing hundreds of people in a building each day. Wabtec needs to remember that workers’ lives are more valuable than corporate profits.

My dad has worked for Wabtec / GE for fifteen years. In that time, I’ve witnessed many ups and downs. With this pandemic growing each day, it is imperative to limit the number of employees in buildings or temporarily shut them down. Each day as my father gets home, he quickly showers and washes the clothing he wore throughout the day. Every day is a struggle. My father is a committed worker, but with the outbreak, it’s truly terrifying to have him in that environment. 

Categories

Column, Opinion

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Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School

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