Pittsfield layoff totals unclear

Posted March 31, 2009, at 8:53 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — It has been longer than a week, but final layoff numbers are still not available from GE Security Infrastructure.

The company announced on March 18 that it was looking to cut 100 jobs at the facility — nearly one-quarter of its 425-person work force.

The move likely will increase the staggering unemployment rate in the Pittsfield labor market area, which was at 15 percent as of Jan. 31, according to the Maine Department of Labor. That is second only to the 15.6 percent rate in Millinocket.

The Pittsfield layoffs echo a national trend of dramatic increases in rural unemployment.

The rural economy, which resisted the recession for some time, finally succumbed late last year, according to the Rural Policy Research Institute, which is based at the University of Missouri in Columbia and is a joint program of Iowa State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska.

As recently as November 2008, rural counties were showing a lower rate of job loss than urban communities. Since November, however, rural unemployment has accelerated.

Rural counties have now lost a bigger percentage of their jobs than have urban counties or the nation as a whole, according to the institute. Rural counties had lost 3.4 percent of their jobs during the 12 months ending in January 2009, while urban counties lost 2.8 percent of their jobs.

GE Security has been in Pittsfield for 54 years and makes commercial fire alarm systems.

It is Pittsfield’s largest employer, and nearly everyone in town knows someone who works at the factory, often called Edwards, its original name.

During the floods of 1987, Edwards became the symbol for community spirit after hundreds of townspeople — from children to senior citizens — filled and stacked sandbags to save the company’s sprawling manufacturing plant, which sits below the level of the Sebasticook River.

Indications of the economic slowdown were evident last December when all of GE Security’s temporary employees, hired through an outside agency, were laid off. Last month, 200 employees at GE Security’s Tualatin, Ore., plant also were given layoff notices. The company is a subsidiary of the General Electric Co.

In Pittsfield, company officials said employees were given 60 days notice and offered generous severance packages to encourage voluntary separation.

GE Security spokeswoman Michelle May, speaking from headquarters in Bradenton, Fla., said Monday that final numbers of those voluntarily leaving the company’s Pittsfield plant will not be available until later in the week.

“We want to make sure we give employees some time to make their decision,” she said.

bdnpittsfield@myfairpoint.net

487-3187

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