When Union Workers Take On Corporate Greed

This is part one in a serialized look at Pennsylvania workers’ fight against a rigged economy and corporate greed.

Workers at the Wabtec/GE Transportation plant in Erie, PA are back on the job after an internationally recognized strike.   For nine days the workers in northwest Pennsylvania held the picket line, joined by family members, the community and the solidarity of other unions,

 On Monday, February 25, Wabtec, Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp., took over at the GE Transportation plant in Lawrence Park, Erie.  GE Transportation and Wabtec had begun the final stage of their merger.  The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE) asked Wabtec to honor the collective bargaining agreement that GE Transportation and the union had negotiated, while new negotiations continued.  Wabtec refused. 

Upon completion of the merger, Wabtec CEO Raymond Betler take home a $16 million bonus, while 19 other Wabtec executives collect an additional $43 million in bonuses.  While these executives take home millions, workers who build the locomotives have lost their pensions, retiree healthcare.  Wabtec then proposed a two-tier wage system, featuring a 38% cut in pay for new hires, and mandatory overtime. 

The workers in Erie didn’t flinch. On Tuesday, February 26, 1700 workers represented by UE Local 506 and 618 went on strike.  Over the course of the next nine days, they would garner international solidarity from labor unions and federations across the globe and in their own hometown.  The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO and union brothers and sisters across the commonwealth were proud to stand with them. 

The UE strike in Erie, and the economic trends that spurred it, is a direct allegory for the power of collective action on job sites across the Commonwealth and our country.  We are going to share their stories with you.  We are going to examine what corporate greed really looks like in our society today through the eyes of our UE brothers and sisters.  We’re going to talk about how we got here, what changed in the nature of work, and where we move forward from here.  Stay tuned for part 2.