GE Plastics will cut roughly 300 jobs in Washington, W.Va., as it gradually phases out ABS compounding at its chemical and plastics complex there during the next several years. The Pittsfield, Mass., firm also said it plans to replace that production by installing a total of 320 million pounds of Cycolac ABS compounding capacity at plants in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Ottawa, Ill., by the first quarter of 1998. GE - which made the announcements Aug. 8 - said the new capacity will lead to a ``net increase'' over that lost at Washington.
GE wants to trim its 800-person Washington work force through retirement and normal attrition, avoiding layoffs, Karen Hern, the plant's spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.
GE employs about 300 in its ABS compounding and support services, Hern said. Although the plant has no timetable for the job cuts, it will shut down the first of four ABS compounding facilities in October.
The 40-year-old buildings that house the ABS lines are laid out inefficiently, creating a labor-intensive, uncompetitive operation, said GE spokesman Robert Hess. GE has owned the facilities since 1988, when it bought the Washington complex from Borg-Warner Chemicals Inc.
GE expects to hire just 85 workers to handle the 320 million pounds of new annual ABS capacity - 230 million pounds at Bay St. Louis and 90 million in Ottawa. New, state-of-the-art, automated compounding equipment will be up and running at those sites by early 1998, Hess said from GE's Pittsfield headquarters. He would not disclose the cost of those expansions, which are slated to begin in two to three months.
GE decided to place the majority of ABS compounding at Bay St. Louis, because the plant already makes bulk ABS as well as a major precursor, Hess said.
The company will keep Cycolac's headquarters, technology center and color services at Washington. Also there, GE manufactures ABS precursors and Blendex, an ABS chemical modifier used in PVC formulations, Hess said. He noted that GE will upgrade those chemical operations, initially by improving quality and production speed.
For now GE has no plans for the buildings being vacated by ABS compounding, but Hess said that they are not configured for chemical manufacturing and probably will sit empty.
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers union, which lost its bid to represent ABS resin workers at the GE plant in December, has been critical of the move and does not believe GE can cut 300 workers without layoffs, said organizer Al Hart.
GE makes 100 different grades of Cycolac ABS, including precolored and flame-retardant plastic, Hess said. Its main markets are extruded pipes and fittings, thermoformed sheet, automotive interior and exterior parts and computer keyboards and housings, Hess said.