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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.

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Wednesday, June 7th

UE Presents Job
And Income
Security Proposals

On this page:

Wednesday Morning

The UE committee discussed and made proposals on a range of job security issues. Although the company claims that job security is "made in the market place," the actual experience of GE workers is that increased productivity and higher profits do not protect their jobs, the union leaders said.

David Kitchen, Local 506, looked at the GE employment picture globally, nationally and at the locomotive plant in Erie, Pennsylvania. The company’s own documents show that GE employment has grown globally but shrunk domestically. GE is increasingly looking to globally sourcing, Kitchen said.

Labor costs are always a consideration, said John Curtin, the GE spokesperson.

In Erie, the battle cry is attrition, Kitchen said. In the three years covered by the expiring national contract, three years of record production, the Erie workforce shrunk by another 149 jobs. Most of that was through attrition, Kitchen said. The plant chief steward said it is difficult to understand how jobs could be lost with an increased volume of work. While the contract allows for discussing transfer of work and outsourcing, there are no provisions for attrition, he said. The Job Preservation Steering Committee was supposed to address such problems.

GE’s Curtin said "there’s nothing that prevents local management from discussing these things." Kitchen countered by saying, "there is no requirement on company’s part to bring this to the table." He asserted the committee has not discussed potential job losses or the creation of employment opportunities. And there are no notices of intent to use attrition to reduce overall employment.

The Local 506 officers, Kitchen, David Adams and Patrick Rafferty, took the company to task for reducing employment, citing as an example the outsourcing of machine work to China supposedly for reasons of "capacity" with no substantive discussion or negotiations since no one was immediately impacted by job loss. When Curtin said GE would like to know what alternatives the union would propose, Kitchen said it is difficult for the union to raise proposals if there are no notices of company decisions to systematically downsize an area by means of attrition over time. The contract does not address this situation and needs to be changed Kitchen noted. "If the company knows that 50 or 60 machine jobs will be lost to attrition, it has a responsibility to come to the union," he argued.

The Local 506 representatives acknowledged that there have been some successes in the preservation of jobs; the union is proud of that record. But more ought to be done. The Job Preservation Committee needs to meet more than twice a year, its members increased, and its overall mandate broadened, they argued.

The union said that the company’s arguments around plant capacity are a loophole. GE has an artificial limit on employment, will not hire, and then claims that it must outsource because of limited capacity. When an area in the Erie plant slows down, work that had been "temporarily" outsourced because of "capacity" does not come back, UE leaders pointed out.

General President John Hovis reminded the company that GE has a management person in Erie with the full-time job of outsourcing every possible job. UE has worked hard to make the Job Preservation process work, while GE managers avoid the contract, he said.

Bob Brown, Local 332, confirmed that Fort Edward management has avoided resolving issues around job preservation. Work transfers have eliminated a number of jobs at the Ontario jet engine repair facility, said Ted Bradley, Local 1010, with the decision being made at a level higher than plant management. To Curtin’s claim that the decision had not been made prior to bargaining with the union, Nita Gonzalez, Local 1010, said Ontario work was already being performed at a GE facility in Scotland even as negotiations were taking place in Ontario. The Local 1010 representatives related that it was obvious that local management had no authority to reverse what was a done deal.

Bob Brown noted that since a 40-year-service employee retired, his machine has sat idle — the company has ignored opportunities to train others. Pat Rafferty blasted the company for failing to make necessary investments in the business in Erie, and said the plant’s machine shop is disappearing. Joyce Sumner and Bob Brown pointed out that the subcontracting of maintenance work in Fort Edward created safety issues.

The union proposed improvements to existing contract language to help correct these problems: the Job Preservation Steering Committees should meet at least quarterly, the number of union representatives should be doubled and the restriction that a plant have a minimum of 100 workers be eliminated. Bargaining and notice requirements should be extended to transfers of work which do not directly result in a decrease of unit employees. Further, the UE committee said, because of job opportunities foreclosed, any distinction between "ongoing" production work and non-production work and between employees directly or indirectly affected by job loss should be eliminated.

Also, the union proposed that the rate guarantee be extended to 104 weeks and include employees indirectly affected by qualifying job-loss events and called for the removal of any implied restrictions on information, including for local negotiations and grievances. UE said the notice provisions for all closings and work transfers should be lengthened. Bargaining should continue until a legal impasse is reached, and there should be the right to strike immediately without clearing a grievance.

Kitchen said a "glaring example of the weakness" of Article XXIII, Job and Income Security, is the erosion of maintenance jobs in the Erie plant. In the past three years 21 maintenance jobs have been eliminated, largely due to attrition — and with no negotiations of any kind. This job loss has occurred in the context of massive subcontracting that followed a blanket notice of intention. Kitchen held a 60-page printout containing 2,661 specific work orders — an average of 4 per day.

Kitchen acknowledged that there is a distinction between emergency maintenance jobs that have to be done immediately and major projects that may take weeks. These should require notice to and negotiation with the union on the same basis as a transfer of ongoing production work.

Bob Brown, Local 332, questioned why the company wouldn’t utilize those already on the payroll. Betsy Potter, Local 618, reminded the GE representatives of the company’s "Integrity" statement, mandating an effort to use GE products and services. "That flies in the face of everything we’ve experienced," she said.

Stephen Tormey, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, said that what GE workers face is an overall company plan to eliminate manufacturing jobs and become primarily a service company.

The entire UE-represented GE workforce has done "a tremendous job for the company," declared President Hovis. "GE should at least be honest and up-front on subcontracting."

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Wednesday Afternoon

In the afternoon session, the UE committee presented a number of proposals having to do with income security aspects of the contract.

The union said it regards as particularly important its proposal to eliminate the waiting week required for Income Extension Aid (IEA) and untie this program from unemployment compensation.

Tormey pointed out that even by the company’s figures, GE workers’ real wages advanced by only 1.6% per year over the life of the contract. The loss of a week’s pay represents about 2% of income — wiping out a year’s real wage gains of the contract, he said. Improvements in IEA have been negotiated over the years, gradually loosening its connection to unemployment compensation, Tormey said. It’s now time to eliminate the waiting week.

"You’re penalizing people for something that’s out of their control," complained Bill Callahan, Local 751. Workers shouldn’t lose a week’s pay because they have lost their jobs.

GE’s Curtin said that IEA is coordinated with unemployment compensation and that this is an issue where the union should not expect movement.

The union proposed that the total amount of IEA should be based on 1.5 weeks times years of service, and that the minimum benefit be substantially increased. Anything that costs money will be looked at very carefully, said the GE spokesperson. Tormey warned the company against a contract front-loaded with items that don’t cost much and have little impact on the majority of GE workers.

David Kitchen suggested that IEA improvements are a competitive issue, arguing that managers will be less likely to schedule rash and unproductive temporary Lack of Work situations with the added financial penalty. The business would benefit, he said. Every year in Fort Edward, said Bob Brown, LOWs follow high inventories. Lack of work because of high inventories will idle some 220 workers this summer at Niles and Mahoning Glass, said Bill Callahan. Pat Rafferty noted the "inordinate number" of LOWs during the Christmas shutdown in 1998, resulting in one less check for the holidays.

The union proposed deletion of the provision in Article XXIII, Section 2(b)(3) which penalizes workers laid off at a closed facility in advance of the plant closing announcement, and called for the deletion of the requirement that workers hired under preferential placement repay IEA.

UE also proposed the definition of "week’s pay" in Section 1(g) be amended to include the highest rate of pay within the previous two months, or, in the case of pieceworkers, the high statistical average within the previous 24 months. David Kitchen and Pat Rafferty offered a detailed explanation of why the havoc created by layoffs makes this language change necessary.

Severance pay should be uniform, and be based on 2.5 weeks times service, the union insisted.

The UE committee called for substantial increases in all benefits tied to job loss, including the Voluntary Layoff and Retirement bonuses, the education and retaining allowance and preferential placement. The union noted that these last two benefits have cost the company 0.00 cents per hour over the last three years, by the company’s figures.

There should be a high cost associated with plant closings, Tormey said. He pointed out that when the company sells a business it often uses the proceeds to close other plants or transfer operations. The union believes such funds should be used to either improve job security in existing plants or improve benefits.

UE proposed that applicable benefits should be paid to all employees permanently laid off due to a partial discontinuance of operations or plant sale as if a plant closing had occurred.

"These improvements are important to us," declared Bill Callahan, who reminded the company of the longstanding threat to Mahoning Glass.

The union proposed amendment of Section 2(b)(4) in Article XXIII to provide that requests by employees to advance their termination date be honored. Responding to a concern voiced by GE’s Curtin, Tormey said that if the company is "so worried about serving the customers, you should think again about closing the plant."

Next, UE proposed that in the event of a plant sale, automatic recognition of the union be a condition of the sale, with the existing contract to remain in effect until negotiations. While no successor employer has failed to recognize the union, UE has had bad experiences in dealings with successors — and there’s no guarantee that the future won’t be more difficult.

The union proposed that Special Placement be extended to employees indirectly affected by transfers of work, and allow Special Placement without regard to minimum qualifications up to the top of the three-month progression schedule.

UE called for extension of the time for employees to make their selection of plants under Preferential Placement and to allow selections to be changed at any time. Also, the union said the Preferential Placement option should be extended to all laid-off employees who break service.

Further, the union said Preferential Placement opportunities should be extended to all domestic GE-controlled or joint-venture facilities.

The UE committee’s complaint that the company has excluded a number of facilities from its listing of plants provoked a lengthy debate. The GE spokesperson insisted that a number of GE-owned and controlled businesses, many of them recently purchased in the aircraft engine division, are "not part of the corporation." He admitted, however, that profits from these businesses go to GE — "eventually" — and that GE has "some influence" over their operation. Tormey blasted the company’s argument as "a legal fiction" designed for tax and regulatory purposes which limits the value of the Preferential Placement benefit.

"You’ve told us how much you appreciate and value your employees," said Betsy Potter, Local 618. "Why not allow them to transfer to these GE-owned businesses? What’s the problem?" ‘When people lose their jobs, and they have families to take care of, they have only one objective, to get another job," said Bill Callahan. "If they’ve worked for GE, there is no reason to flat out reject them for these GE-owned businesses."

The recent development in lamp division will not affect preferential placement or the national agreement, said Curtin.

The two sides sparred briefly over whether GE’s anti-union bias shows in the Preferential Hiring program. Tormey shared an anti-union leaflet distributed by the company among its Worthington, Ohio industrial abrasives employees. The company offered a written commitment to bring outsourced work back into the plant in response to the threat of union organizing — the kind of commitment it refuses to make in negotiations. "This company talks out of two sides of its month on job security," Tormey said.

The union also proposed that the hiring of employees under Preferential Placement be guaranteed if a suitable job opening exists for which they have minimum qualifications, and that the Preferential Placement moving allowances be increased.

The UE committee proposed the Special Benefit Protection be extended for workers with 20 or more years of service and to employees age 50 with at least 10 years of service. Union leaders said that it’s time to re-evaluate the assumption that a typical GE career is 35 years in duration. Twenty years, under present conditions, represents a significant proportion of a typical GE career. Numerous benefits to long-service workers are blocked by the restrictions currently in the contract.

For benefits purposes, the contract should treat jobs lost or changed due to process innovations or new technology the same as those automated, the union proposed. Pat Rafferty and David Kitchen gave examples of the experience in the Erie plant.

The union proposed that the Education and Retraining benefit be paid upon enrollment in approved courses, and that any career-related courses be covered to the maximum allowance under the Individual Development Program, even if unrelated to GE employment. The union also proposed that the IDP allowance be increased.

Betsy Potter said "it’s critical that the population cap be removed" for participation in job preservation. She said she sees "several opportunities for new jobs" for Local 618 members.

Under Article XV, the UE committee proposed that the number of union officials recognized in Sections 1(a) and 3(a)(2) for facilities with between 2001 and 5000 employees be increased from 8 to 12; that payment be provided under Section 3(a)(2) for legitimate union business and that there be a substantial increase in paid stewards’ time above the current 1.5 hours a week. Committee members pointed out that union officers face a wide range of complex problems, a situation worsened by GE’s closure of benefits offices and reliance on 800 numbers. "I never expected to help people make life choices or be a GE benefits administrator," said Pat Rafferty, Local 506. "It’s become part of the daily routine." Committee members expressed considerable dissatisfaction with GE’s payroll administration.

UE called for the deletion of the phrase "who represent the union in labor relations with the company" in Article XV, 15 Section 2, which deals with union leave of absence. The union said this obsolete language which has no relevance and represents an unnecessary restriction on union operations.

The union also proposed a substantial increase and liberalization of organizing leaves under Appendix K.

Finally, the UE committee said that the annual entitlement to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act should not be reduced by Short-Term Disability or Workers’ Compensation.

A company presentation on compensation was expected when negotiations resumed Thursday morning.

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