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UE-GE National Contract Negotiations



Week of 6.19:
Saturday, 6.24
Friday, 6.23
Thursday, 6.22
Wednesday, 6.21
Tuesday, 6.20
Monday, 6.19

Large Table:
Thursday, 6.15
Wednesday, 6.14
Tuesday, 6.13
Thursday, 6.8
Wednesday, 6.7
Tuesday, 6.6
Thursday, 6.1
Wednesday, 5.31
Tuesday, 5.30
Opening Statement

(full text)

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UE has represented thousands of General Electric employees under a UE-GE national contract since 1938.

We are one of only two unions holding a national agreement with GE.

There are 14 unions with GE members which have joined together in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC) of GE unions.

UE-GE Contract 2000 Archives page ...

Tuesday, May 30th

'Wide Difference of
Perspective' in
Opening Statements

National negotiations opened this afternoon between UE and General Electric in the Sheraton Hotel in New York with an exchange of statements indicating a wide difference in perspective on the company’s wealth and workers’ needs.

Speaking on behalf of the union, General President John Hovis emphasized that GE can well afford the generous contract improvements workers have earned.

Since the last set of national negotiations, Hovis noted, the GE income machine cranked out another three years of double-digit profits, culminating in last year’s 10.7 billion profit — and the company itself says there is "unusually strong momentum" for this year.

"GE continues to overwhelm any real or perceived competition," Hovis said; GE controls and largely dictates the terms of most of the markets it’s in. Over the past three years GE has spent $50 billion on acquisitions, more than two per week. Even GE Chairman Jack Welch says the company can’t compare itself "in any way" to the company’s traditional competitors. Instead of the "brutal competition" usually cited by company negotiators, GE "realistically faces only the ghost of competition past," Hovis said.

GE management and stockholders have had plenty to celebrate with the company’s success. The GE Chairman himself said the company could afford a "fair and generous" contract settlement. But UE members "have a well-founded skepticism as to whether the company’s idea of generosity will meet their expectations," the union president said. Last year alone, GE workers produced more than $31,000 apiece in net profits. "They have earned their just reward and then some," Hovis declared.

The UE negotiating committee has been sent by the membership to achieve a well-balanced agreement addressing a range of issues, the union president observed. The pensions plan is one issue of many although of great importance — and "provides perhaps the most glaring example of the company’s insatiable lust for wealth," Hovis said. The pension trust now stands at more than $50 billion, containing about twice as much as needed to fund all present and future obligations.

Although the GE Pension Fund exists only to benefit plan participants, Hovis said, the company views it as "a profit center" "to attract shareholders and bolster GE’s stock price" — a practice providing the company with a disincentive to use the surplus to increase benefits.

"There is simply no justification for anything other than very substantial increases in both the career and guaranteed minimum formulas," along with "a substantial career earnings update," Hovis said. Employee contributions to the pension plan are unnecessary and should be embarrassing to GE; the company has contributed nothing to the fund since 1987. UE will propose a lowering of the early retirement age. Acknowledging that the recent pension increase "was a welcome and badly needed step in the right direction," Hovis said the union will press for a pension COLA for retirees.

Turning to wages, Hovis commented that "GE’s profit bonanza has not resulted in any significant improvement in the living standards of GE workers. Our GE members realized on average a very modest increase in real wages of about 1.7% per year" during the present contract — gains due primarily to lower than expected levels of inflation. Hovis declared, "Having accomplished the job of making GE the country’s most profitable company, it’s high time GE workers are rewarded accordingly."

The union places "a high priority" on improving the cost-of-living formula, Hovis told company negotiators; the present formula replaces slightly more than 40% of wages lost to inflation.

GE has long claimed that job security is "earned" in the marketplace, but "GE workers know from bitter experience that the marketplace is only one part of the equation," Hovis said. GE continues to shut down profitable plants and move profitable product lines. For that reason, the union will make a number of job security proposals. "We will continue to place a high priority on restricting GE’s ability to move our work, as well as put real meaning into the decision-bargaining process," he said. And UE is not interested in concessions on the local level which the company’s chief negotiator referred to in talking about "another way of viewing job security."

UE will seek to substantially improve benefits for employees affected by job loss, especially SERO options. And, Hovis said, UE will renew demands for more paid time off, including an additional holiday, an improved vacation schedule, and more sick and personal leave days.

The UE president acknowledged that health insurance continues to be an area of sharp disagreement between the parties. GE’s aggregate medical costs have gone down by 20% since 1992, and the average GE worker with dependents is making substantial contributions, but still the company is "apparently gearing up for another round of medical cost shifting to employees." GE’s cost shifting must be halted and reversed, Hovis stressed. With 80% of GE employees enrolled, Health Care Preferred must be fully negotiable, he insisted.

Throughout UE’s 62 years of bargaining with GE, the union has approached negotiations with "a sincere desire to reach an equitable settlement," Hovis said. That hasn’t changed in this new century. "While we know these negotiations will be difficult, we fully expect the company to recognize the contributions made by our members in a meaningful way," he said. A fair and generous settlement that substantially meets UE members’ desires and expectations will give them, too, reason to celebrate in the year 2000, the union leader concluded.

In making opening remarks for the company in his first time negotiating with UE, GE spokesperson John Curtin emphasized the company’s intention to reach a settlement that will allow the company to be flexible and respond to competition.

In a new business environment "light on bricks and mortar and heavy on computer servers and internet sites," GE continues to do well because of its "flexibility" in responding to opportunities, Curtin said.

"In these discussions we need to stay focused on the businesses GE is in and the competitors we face in the marketplace," proposed the company spokesperson. Curtin suggested that GE production employees "have done well" with regard to wages, another area where he said the company must be aware of competitive pressures.

Describing GE’s record of progress in health insurance as "commendable," Curtin seemed to lay the basis for proposing additional cost shifting to employees by stressing the increased costs paid by GE for medical services and emphasizing the need for the company to be "flexible and creative."

With regard to job security, he rejected proposals that would require GE to "guarantee the future by making commitments to maintain employment levels or plant operations. That is a recipe for disaster in today’s rapidly changing world." While the company spokesperson offered no proposals for enhanced job security, he hailed GE’s "solid record of success in outplacement programs when we have had layoffs." Curtin pointed out that the company’s costs on the window feature of the SERO program greatly exceeded estimates, and called for "a resolution that will meet real employee needs without damaging the competitive ability of our businesses."

Curtin hailed the GE pension plan as providing retirees with "the resources to live comfortably." The company will be looking at pension benefit improvements, but "we need to recognize there are limits."

GE would like to conclude these negotiations with a contract that’s five or more years in duration, the company spokesperson said. Curtin’s statement clashed with the declaration of John Hovis earlier that "UE has no desire to return to 1955," when the company demanded a long-term settlement.

The parties concluded the session by reviewing the schedule for the next several days of talks.

  • Read the complete text of GE's Opening Statement delivered by GE Negotiator John Curtin (on the CBC Web)

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