WAUKESHA -- Gov. Scott Walker pledged Tuesday that state and local officials would have a "unified effort" against General Electric's plans to eliminate 350 jobs at its Waukesha plant.
GE representatives have blamed Congress for failing to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, calling it the "primary" reason for its decision to move gas engine production from Waukesha to Canada.
The Ex-Im Bank allows foreign governments and companies to get U.S.-backed loans to buy GE products. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, has called the program "corporate welfare," and Walker said earlier this year that he would eliminate it if he were president.
"Unfortunately, I think (the jobs) are pawns in a larger political battle being played out in Washington," Walker said Tuesday, declining to say whether he still believed the Ex-Im Bank should be eliminated.
"I think it's unwise for any corporation to be making decisions on where they place work based on one particular vote in the Congress," the governor said.
Walker said he and Waukesha city and county officials were holding a conference call Tuesday about how to convince GE to keep gas engine production in Waukesha.
Union representatives said they took GE officials "at their word" about the reason for their decision, turning their anger to Republican lawmakers over Ex-Im reauthorization.
"For (workers) to be losing their jobs really because of what the GOP has done in Congress is really a shock to the system," said Alex Hoekstra, business director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Lodge 10 in Milwaukee.
Hoekstra said there remains time to work out the problems, because it could take 18 months to two years for GE to build the planned facility in Canada.
Earlier this year, while testing the waters for a presidential run, Walker said he favored eliminating the Export-Import Bank, according to multiple news reports.
The U.S. Senate voted in July to reauthorize the program, but Republicans in the U.S. House allowed the program to lapse. Walker, in not taking a position himself, noted that Wisconsin's GOP congressional delegation is split on the issue.
A GE spokesman said Monday that the company couldn't compete in some foreign markets without access to Ex-Im financing.
General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt previously worked at GE facilities in Waukesha. Walker said he was waiting to develop a strategy with local officials before meeting with GE executives.
President Barack Obama visited the GE Power and Water plant in January 2014, praising the company and its workers.
The union feels like even if there is time to work this out, GE still has to build the facility in Canada.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has drafted a letter to Governor Scott Walker, asking that Walker join him in "demanding Congress take the appropriate action to save these jobs, and perhaps, thousands of other Wisconsin jobs."