News & Updates

Breaking the Cycle of Decline

Posted on May 9th, 2019 at 8:55 AM
Breaking the Cycle of Decline

Last week, the Erie Regional Chamber issued an economic report on Wabtec’s impact on the Erie economy. The report demonstrated the direct, indirect, and induced effects of the former GE Transportation facility.

The most pertinent finding from the impact report is the following: the 1,700 union jobs at Wabtec support another 5,100 jobs across the region. That’s approximately a one-to-three ratio; one union job supports three jobs in our larger regional economy or a total of 6,800 jobs. That number doesn’t account for the non-union employees at the Lawrence Park facility. The jobs in question equate to an economic impact of roughly $400 million to our region.

The standoff between local union leadership and Wabtec puts those 6,800 jobs and the $400 million at risk – the effects of which would be felt in industries ranging from retail to manufacturing, education to healthcare. It means that people like your favorite waiter at your go-to lunch spot, your bank teller, even your family physician are in jeopardy of maintaining current employment.

We risk losing it all if an agreement cannot be made between Wabtec and UE Local 506 regarding the two-tier wage rate – something that is commonplace in many industries interested in remaining globally competitive. 

As an economic development professional, I have a simple charge: the retention and expansion of jobs and investment in our community.  Anything that threatens this responsibility, such as the stalemate between the Union and Wabtec, requires action.  

Any good economic developer will read our news headlines and begin aggressively pursuing Wabtec to move operations to their community. I am here to fight for all jobs – especially those we need to stay within our local economy. 

The union leadership states that their unwillingness to compromise on the proposed two-tier wage rate is in effort to protect the future workers and future generations.

I agree; our goal should be to keep the 6,800 jobs within our community for the students within our community who wish to stay and have a career in the place they’ve always called home. The loss of Wabtec as an employer in our community robs future generations of sustainable jobs and above-average wages in the place they call home.

Imagine, for a moment, that every student currently enrolled in an Erie County high school wanted gainful employment at Wabtec. The 6,800 jobs in question is equal to 70% of high school students currently enrolled within Erie County.

In this case, a two-tiered wage rate will be irrelevant if there are no jobs to which it applies because Wabtec closed down the facility. It would instead force future generations to be driven out of the community and seek employment elsewhere. How is that in the best interest for those individuals – students or working professionals – who want to remain in Erie and take pride in doing their work?  

For more than a century, the Erie facility has been an active fixture of the community. It has strong economic and sentimental value to Erie residents and as such needs to be carefully considered as an anchor to the local economy.  When I joined the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, I was – and remain – excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for Erie. This is a thriving community with a rich history that includes generations of hardworking families that have called Erie home.

I’ve spent my career working within communities like Erie – some of which have faced similar decisions. I was recruited to Erie to help break the cycle of “managed decline,” and I have had the privilege of getting to know a hard working “building things” community, capable of rising above its current trajectory.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of businesses like Wabtec seeing value in Erie and its dedicated workforce and continuing to invest here.  

It is clear, however, that jeopardizing more than 6,800 jobs and a long standing partnership with an anchor business only progresses this decline further, risking opportunities for growth.  This community cannot afford to continued decline. We must embrace this unique opportunity to grow.

By negotiating a fair contract, the UE Local 506 and Wabtec will chart a deeper course for our community to continue thriving. Our growth depends on a vibrant mix of industries that creates a dynamic business environment. This mix is what will keep us poised for future stability and growth for generations to come. 

I urge you to call the UE Local 506 leadership, thank them for their dedication to this community, and encourage their ongoing conversation with Wabtec leadership for future generations.   

It is time to break the cycle. Think beyond the headlines and truly understand what is at stake – not just for the employees of Wabtec, but for the community at large.

OpEd appears in the 5/9/19 edition of the Erie Times News