General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt has taken umbrage at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ claim last week that GE was “destroying the moral fabric” of America. He pushed back with an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, criticizing the senator from Vermont for empty talk and touting his company’s contributions to the U.S. economy and its society.
“GE has been in business for 124 years, and we’ve never been a big hit with socialists,” Immelt wrote. “We create wealth and jobs, instead of just calling for them in speeches.”
Meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board last Friday, Sanders, an independent who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, specifically named General Electric as an example of a company that represented “the greed ... of corporate America” and served as an “agent of American destruction.”
Sanders told the newspaper that GE had been gradually shutting down its domestic plants and shipping jobs to foreign countries with lower pay rates, all while “doing a very good job avoiding the taxes,” so that in a given year the company paid no taxes at all.
“That is greed, and that’s selfishness. That is lack of respect for the people of this country,” Sanders said.
General Electric announced a plan in September to ship 500 jobs overseas, as the Washington Post reported. GE said at the time the move was being made because the authorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank had expired in July and because of uncertainty about whether Congress would renew the bank’s charter, as well as the fact that the company had recently reached an agreement with the French export credit agency. As a result, the firm said, “GE will move approximately 500 jobs from Texas, South Carolina, Maine and New York to France, Hungary and China.”
General Electric blamed Congress in part for the company’s decision at the time. “We ... have done everything in our power to avoid making these moves at all, but Congress left us no choice when it failed to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank this summer,” GE Vice Chairman John Rice said in a statement. “We know this will have an impact not only on our employees but on the hundreds of U.S. suppliers we work with that cannot move their facilities, but we cannot walk away from our customers.”
In his op-ed piece Wednesday, Immelt said General Electric currently sustains 125,000 jobs in the U.S. He criticized Sanders over the fact that the senator had “never bothered to stop by our aviation plant” in Vermont that employs “more than 1,000 people who are very good at what they do.”
Immelt also touted General Electric as “one of the United States’ prime exporters” and disputed the notion that the company paid no taxes, saying, “We pay billions in taxes, including federal, state and local taxes.” He also argued for comprehensive reform to what he called “an outdated and complete tax code that puts them [U.S. companies] at a distinct competitive disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, Immelt’s piece made no mention of General Electric’s announcement in September that it would outsource 500 jobs.