Wabtec workers' strike in Erie stretches a full week

One striking worker speaks with Trains about his experiences and reasons for striking.
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Long-time GE, now Wabtec, worker Chris Merit on strike in Lawrence Park, Pa., on Monday. The former GE Transportation complex looms behind Merit and fellow picketers.
Stephan M. Koenig
ERIE, Pa. — Huddled around one of the burn barrels across the street from the Water Street entrance Chris Merit displays his picket line sign.

Merit — like the cigarette, he says — is a 30-year employee of GE Transportation, and now Wabtec Freight. He's one of hundreds of workers, who, instead of building locomotives, now picket against one of the largest rail supply companies in the world.

Merit says he is one of eight in his family to work for GE Transportation, the rest of whom are now retired. While it may sound unique, his story is similar to many of the names and faces that have worked in the Erie plant and are like a family, and are out of work until further negotiation takes place between the union and Wabtec. Like those in the lines around him they have seen their share of hardships.

“My first layoff here was when I was 25. And it has been up and down since,” Merit says.

Merit remains optimistic that that things will return to normal again but he says it will be a long process.

“We are hurting them in several ways right now, even the Fort Worth (Texas) plant has relied on us for parts and they can’t send them any,” he tells Trains.

Wabtec officials have said that work will be sent to its Boise, Idaho, locomotive plant and has brought in temporary workers to the Erie plant to continue production.

It's a move that Merit dismisses.

“You can’t just bring in people off the street to do what we do,” he says.

The unions involved have been getting a lot of support locally and even nationally. Merit was impressed with that large turnout of union supporters that joined the picket line on Saturday, March 2.

Merit says that former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is scheduled to make an appearance soon. Scott Slawson president of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local No. 506 spoke at a Sanders' rally Sunday evening in New York City.

Locomotives began to get shipped for the first time since the strike began and testing resumed on the test track again for the first time in over a week on Monday, March 4.
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