GE Appliances logoFor GE Appliances workers, the year ends as it began: with uncertainty.

Three weeks after General Electric Appliances workers rejected a four-year contract proposal, union and company leaders said that they were unlikely to come to an agreement before the new year.

“Company and union leadership are meeting several times a week — we will continue to meet hopefully until we can get a tentative agreement,” Dana Crittendon, president of the IUE-CWA 83761, told IL Tuesday.

“I don’t see us getting there in the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Company spokeswoman Kim Freeman said that workers at Appliance Park would be off work the last two weeks of the year, so they would not be able to vote until their return.

The park, which employs about 6,000, including about 4,000 members of the union, designs and manufactures appliances including dishwashers and refrigerators for consumers, and air-conditioners for the hospitality industry.

Just about a year ago, GEA’s former parent company, General Electric Co., pulled the plug on a sale of the appliances division to Sweden-based Electrolux, just as an antitrust trial was about to enter its fifth week. Federal regulators had objected to the deal, because they feared it would reduce competition and increase prices for consumers.

That left the future of Appliance Park in limbo over the holidays in 2015.

An Advantium combination oven from GE Appliances' luxury line, Monogram. | Courtesy of Monogram.
An Advantium combination oven from the GE Appliances Monogram line. | Courtesy of Monogram

In mid-January, GE announced that it planned to sell the unit to China-based Qingdao Haier. The companies completed their $5.6 billion deal in June.

Haier, union and city leaders said the deal would benefit the city, the local appliance campus and the employees, and open opportunities for Louisville-made products to be exported. Haier agreed to keep the division’s headquarters in Louisville, but also said it could not honor a labor contract that the union and GE had reached in 2015.

GE Appliances officials said that Appliance Park was the only one of its four North American sites that was not profitable and that without the corporate backing of GE, the unit would have to reduce costs to be profitable in the high-volume, low-margin appliance business.

Negotiations on a new labor agreement began in mid-August and stretched until mid-November, when union and company leaders revealed a proposal that froze wages for current employees, lowered starting pay for incoming employees by 23 percent and changed work practices that union members said disadvantaged older workers. The proposal also called for the company to invest $90 million in Appliance Park next year.

However, more than 72 percent of the roughly 3,600 union members who voted on Nov. 22 rejected the proposal, leaving company leaders “extremely disappointed.”

While the parties have continued their talks, Freeman has said that it is up to the union to present to the company a proposal “that best positions Appliance Park for future success by reducing costs and improving flexibility.”

Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.