OLEAN, N.Y. — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer visited Olean Monday in support of Steelworkers Local 4601, calling on Siemens Energy to sell the former Dresser-Rand plant to a company that pledges to hire the 530 steelworkers and more than 300 others working at the site.
“I’m here to fight like hell for these jobs and the community,” said Schumer, the Democrat from Brooklyn, during his visit to Local 4601’s hall on North Union Street. “They should only consider selling to a company that pledges to keep all the jobs in the community.”
Siemens announced in February it planned to close the Olean plant and move the manufacturing to other U.S. sites. The company also announced 100 of the Olean employees would be transferred to its Painted Post plant.
“When we pass the infrastructure bill, there will be greater demand to build things here U.S.,” Schumer said. “Siemens has only been part of the fabric of this community for a few years,” while the name Dresser goes back through generations of steelworkers in Olean, Schumer said.
The senator said he had “very harsh words” with the Siemens USA chairman, saying “If these jobs aren’t kept in Olean you are go,ing to have a real angry majority leader.”
Schumer said the chairman replied that Siemens “cares about the workers and wants to take care of them.” He said he plans “to keep her to her word.”
Schumer said he believes there are companies making the same type of oil and gas equipment that are interested in the Olean plant.
The Senate majority leader said the CEO of whatever company buys the Olean plant from Siemens should expect to get a call from him telling them it will be “worth their while” to continue employing the nearly 1,000 employees at the Olean Siemen’s plant, including about 300 engineers.
He added: “I don’t mind using my clout as majority leader to keep these jobs. We need to keep all these jobs here, not send 100 to Painted Post.”
The infrastructure bill provides for union jobs, Schumer said, noting the Steelworkers Union supported him in his first New York Assembly bid in Brooklyn — and he has had their backs ever since.
Steelworkers Local 4601 President Tom Stimlinger thanked Schumer for his support and presented a stack of letters from local union members to his office in support of the infrastructure bill.
“It’s huge to have someone of that caliber show up and signal his support,” Stimlinger said of Schumer’s visit.
The union president warned of the impact to the Olean area the loss of more than 500 union jobs would have. “The trickledown effect would be devastating,” he said. “If we don’t get something in there, it will be devastating.”
The Olean plant makes compressers used in the oil and gas industry — a connection to the industry it has has for more than 100 years. The layoffs have already begun.
“These are high-skill, good-paying union jobs,” Schumer said, charging that Siemens was “not doing the right thing” when it announced plans to close the Olean plant in February.
Olean Mayor Bill Aiello stood at Schumer’s left behind the podium. When it came his turn to speak, the mayor thanked Schumer for going to bat for the employees and the Olean community.
“We’ve got No. 4 in the nation here for us,” he told the 30 or so union members inside the hall to listen to Schumer, referring to the senator’s rank in the government. “We want to keep this Dresser-Rand facility in our community. Thank you for being here.”
The mayor also thanked Schumer for the city’s stimulus in the American Recovery Plan.
Olean Common Council President John Crawford, who attended with his two small children, masked and carrying signs of support for the union members, said the city “needs those good-paying union jobs.” Their loss would be “devastating for our community.”
It is critical that Siemens “sells to another employer who will keep these union jobs,” Crawford added. “We want the plant to keep making things. We don’t want Siemens to sell out, but to sell up.”
Before posing for photos with union officials and members, as well as a few local politicians, Schumer answered a few “off topic” questions from reporters.
He said he supports adding vision, hearing and dental benefits for seniors to Medicare programs. Western New York, with its aging population, would benefit from these services, which many elderly cannot afford.
Replying to a question about what he can do for the Buffalo Bills chances of getting a new stadium, Schumer said he knows Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is from Buffalo, and the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is from Jamestown.
“I’ll do everything I can to help,” Schumer said.
The majority leader said he supports job training and other aid for Afghanistan refugees coming to this country.
On some Americans’ hesitancy to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Schumer said “people should get the vaccine” to protect themselves and others. “I think the vaccine is safe. I trust the medical authorities.”
Regarding the Jan. 6 Congressional Committee, Schumer said, “I think we should get to the bottom of (the Capital Hill riot and insurrection).”
Schumer said, “The good news is that we got the debt ceiling (extended). Now we’ve got a lot of work to do — including infrastructure.” He predicted the two infrastructure bills could be done by the end of this month.
He said he didn’t understand why the U.S.-Canadian border was still closed to Canadians. “Americans can go to Canada, but Canadians can’t come to the U.S. Our Western New York economy depends on this.”