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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 8th

GE: 'Employees Are
Already Well-Paid'

Most of the day was devoted to company presentations on compensation and insurance.

GE compensation specialist Dan Gilbert presented a number of charts designed to convey the impression that GE workers are well paid, if not over-paid, in comparison to the "competition." He began by pointing out that GE operates 117 domestic manufacturing facilities in 32 states and competes in many product areas, ranging from plastic materials to electromedical devices.

The straight-time average UE-GE hourly wage is $19.968 (the union said it’s probably closer to $19.67), a 4.9% improvement over the 1997 average of $17.655. "Roll-up" — the impact of wage increases on other benefits — drives increases in compensation costs, Gilbert said. Roll-up today adds 66 cents for every dollar in wage increases. He listed a range of roll-up impacted benefits, calculating that the total UE-GE compensation package is $37.493 an hour

The UE committee took sharp exception to Gilbert’s inclusion of statutory benefits — workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation and Social Security — which are not subject to bargaining. The union also objected to Gilbert’s inclusion of pension benefits, for which GE has had a zero cash flow expense since 1987. Although the company makes no contribution to the pension fund workers do. "At what point do we get credit for the overfunded pension plan?" asked General President John Hovis.

UE members also had problems with the company’s inclusion of overtime costs. The company, not the union, encourages the use of over time. The company saves money by paying workers overtime instead of hiring additional workers, the union said.

The union committee wanted to know how the company’s figures for UE-GE compensation compared with management compensation. That’s not relevant, the company responded, refusing to divulge the figures. What about the fact that GE workers produce $16 profits per hour? We don’t base our wage proposals on profits, the GE spokesperson said. "The world’s most productive workers should be the world’s best paid," declared President Hovis.

Gilbert presented charts comparing GE wage increases in the present contract with all settlements and with total manufacturing settlements. The company analyst asserted that the UE-GE wage differential is the highest it’s been over the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for manufacturing in 21 years, and that GE wages are now 47% higher than the BLS average. The figures showed a first-year increase higher than most, and second and third-year results that were not. According to the company’s figures, 45% of settlements were three years in duration, 39% more than three years.

John Curtin, GE’s spokesperson, said the trends were worrisome from a competitive standpoint.

Stephen Tormey, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, said that GE, the world’s most successful company, ought to be embarrassed by comparing itself to other firms in this way. President Hovis said he was not impressed by the figures, and reiterated that GE workers deserve higher wages.

Tormey reminded the company that there is another way of looking at the compensation picture. GE’s total compensation was $7.835 billion in 1990 and $7.993 billion in 1999. That’s almost flat, he said — a 0.6% increase in nine years. Wage increases have been flat for the decade. If Gilbert had used unit labor costs, GE would have been at the top of that chart. GE may be willing to pay a little more money, but squeezes more productivity out of its remaining employees, Tormey said.

"Let’s talk about what a real GE worker faces," the UE-GE Conference Board secretary proposed. The average GE worker earns $41,000, based on $19.76 an hour and a full 2,080 hours per year. Assuming a combined 25% rate, federal, state and local taxes reduce take-home to $31,000. Medical insurance contributions reduce that to about $30,500. Assuming another slice for medical out-of-pocket expenses, pension contributions, Long-Term Disability Insurance, what’s left is a net average wage of $28,000. That’s just $12,000 from the official poverty line for a family of four, Tormey observed.

"Unless we have overtime consistently, or income from second earners, workers supporting families for the most profitable, the most successful company on the planet have a hell of a time trying to make it," Tormey said. GE workers may be doing better than some, as the company says, but GE is doing better than everyone.

The cost of the stock-option bonus program enjoyed by 30,000 in management undoubtedly costs several times more than the cost of all improvements incurred by GE in national bargaining, the union pointed out. UE members have access to financial data and know how well managers are doing, commented Betsy Potter, Local 618. These managers have proven their worth in the marketplace, said GE’s Curtin. Our members are worth it, too, Potter replied.

Larry Cook, GE benefits manager, returned to make a presentation on disability and life insurance and other benefits.

Disability benefits are designed to provide an adequate level of replacement income and assist employees in recovery, Cook said. The company regards Short Term Disability (STD) benefit improvements as consistent with employee needs and business productivity objectives. The UE committee said that while STD benefits have improved, levels remain inadequate. Workers out on short-term medical leave "can’t pay bills, can’t eat, can’t wait to get back to work," said Pat Wotjwicz, Local 731. Several committee members related incidents of arbitrary company conduct. Cook admitted that he has not been satisfied with the performance of the GE benefits department over the past year, and said that additional staff and more timely payment of benefits have been implemented.

The Local 506 and 618 representatives had specific complaints directed against the GE benefits operation in GE’s transportation division.

Cook detailed the GE life insurance plan, personal accident insurance, the GE survivor support program, life and accidental death insurance, long-term care insurance and personal excess liability insurance. Tormey noted that only 960 GE employees, the vast majority exempt employees, were taking advantage of the long-term care insurance as of February 2000. "We’re mostly not participating because we can’t afford it," he said.

The union committee returned to the issue of disability insurance, detailing concerns with workers being forced prematurely to return to work and problems of administration. David Adams, Local 506, gave the company a real-life example of the difficulties with the current disability benefit levels.

Representing the union during the second week of negotiations were General President John Hovis, Conference Board Secretary Stephen Tormey, Bob Brown and Joyce Sumner, Local 332, David Adams, David Kitchen and Patrick Rafferty, Local 506, Betsy Potter, Local 618, Patrick Wotjwicz, Local 731, 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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