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
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
In the afternoon session, the UE committee presented
a number of proposals having to do with income security aspects of
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
The recent development in lamp division will not
affect preferential placement or the national agreement, said
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
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.