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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
UE's 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 ...

Thursday, June 1st

GE: Employees
Should Pay More
For Health Care

The day was taken up by a company presentation on health insurance. Larry Cook, insurance program manager, and health care associates Ginny Proestakes and Pat Mattice gave the company’s view of health plan goals and costs. The clear message throughout the lengthy presentation was that, in the opinion of management, GE pays too much for health insurance and workers not enough.

Themes repeated throughout the presentation included:

  • Health care costs impact business competitiveness.

  • Cost increases are a major business concern.

  • GE businesses pay the health costs (nearly $7,000 per employee annually) dollar for dollar for their employees

  • GE offers better health insurance benefits than its competitors.

  • The employees of competitors pay more for their insurance than do GE employees.

  • GE is committed to plans which maintain "reasonable" levels of cost sharing.

Throughout the presentation the UE committee voiced a number of questions and criticisms. The union reminded the GE representatives that UE has long advocated the best, most equitable and far-reaching solution to the nation’s health-care crisis — a single-payer system.

The company asserted that "business realities" included competition, declining prices for products and services, and a trend towards inflation of medical costs. The union challenged the company both on its claim of declining prices and competition. Are profit margins also going down? asked Ted Bradley, Local 1010. If productivity gains are so remarkable that profits increase despite declining prices, workers’ reward should not be more cost shifting, declared Stephen Tormey.

Nita Gonzalez, Local 1010, and President Hovis took the company to task for forcing workers out of the Comprehensive Medical Benefits (CMB) plan and into Health Care Preferred (HCP) through high fees. Joyce Sumner, Local 332, and Betsy Potter, Local 618, wanted to know, since the company is self-insured, why can’t there be one plan without fees or co-payments?

The GE benefits staff stressed the importance of consumer education and preventative health care. Bob Brown, Local 332, said the company is helping to drive up costs by no longer paying for physical examinations at his location. President Hovis reminded the GE representatives that the union had to shame the company into paying for mammograms and how the company has repeatedly refused to cover well-baby programs.

The UE committee was unimpressed by the considerable emphasis the company gave to rising drug prices and employees responsibility as consumers to make "smart choices." GE workers are not responsible for the price-gouging that has resulted from pharmaceutical companies adopting GE’s marketing techniques, the union leaders said. "I cannot get a prescription unless a doctor gives it to me," objected Bill Callahan, Local 751. "You’re busting our chops and it’s not our problem." "If a doctor tells me I need a prescription drug, am I supposed to tell him I should take a Motrin because it’s cheaper?" asked Ted Bradley, Local 1010. As Nita Gonzalez, Local 1010, sees it, the problem is not that employees are clamoring for unnecessary drugs, it’s insurance companies refusing to pay for medication workers need.

The GE presentation laid particular stress on the "rapidly escalating health costs" with regard to retirees’ prescription drugs and the company’s wish for relief.

Tormey said there’s nothing wrong with the goal of employees being "active" and "educated" consumers, but there are fewer and fewer choices as more of the health care system becomes dominated by a handful of for-profit health corporations.

The union disputed the company’s figures on competitors’ benefits and employee costs. According to research by the union, employees of many major firms pay roughly as much or less than GE workers, not twice as much as suggested by the company’s data. In the case of the Allen-Bradley division of Rockwell International, under their UE contract the vast majority of workers pay nothing, while others pay less than GE workers.

None of the "competitors" cited by GE have close to the company’s wealth and economic power, the union pointed out.

The company stressed that health costs per employee are rising, but conceded that aggregate GE health benefit costs have fallen by $200 million since 1992. Insurance costs represent a steadily declining share of net profits; from 14.4% in 1981 to just 4.8% in 1999.

Union representatives firmly rejected the idea that workers should pay more for health insurance. "The time comes when employees say, ‘enough is enough,’" said President Hovis. Cost shifting  compromises the modest wage increases negotiated in recent contracts, he said. Bill Callahan told the company that the union is doing its part by encouraging workers to be better-informed consumers but cannot accept higher out-of-pocket expenses. "My membership’s not going to accept this," he said. "If you continue to go on this way, you will definitely be stepping on my membership’s toes."

The UE committee expressed particular concern over the company’s goal of strengthening the link between employee cost sharing and "overall claims experience." Tormey told the company that this sounds like an unacceptable "reverse COLA" that will accelerate cost shifting. GE’s John Curtin confirmed that this is being considered by the company.

Pat Rafferty, Local 506, pointed out that there are still many problems with the company’s health-care networks. Rafferty read a letter from a Local 506 member which detailed several months of unconscionable delay in receiving the medication he needs as a diabetic. "I get these horror stories frequently," Rafferty said. "The whole process doesn’t work." Nita Gonzalez and Ted Bradley of Local 1010 reported similar frustration with the networks. Rafferty and Local 506 President Dave Adams also reported dissatisfaction with major cost increases to retirees enrolled in GE’s MedicarePlus plan, which is a Medicare HMO. The union promised medical insurance proposals of its own next week.

Negotiations recessed until 9 o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, June 6.

Representing the union during the first week of negotiations were General President John Hovis, Director of Organization Robert Kingsley, Conference Board Secretary Stephen Tormey, Research Director Lisa Frank, Bob Brown and Joyce Sumner, Local 332, David Adams and Patrick Rafferty, Local 506, Betsy Potter, Local 618, William Callahan, Local 751, and Ted Bradley and Nita Gonzalez, Local 1010. International Representative Chris Townsend represented UE at the IUE table.

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