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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 ...

Wednesday, June 14th

Health Care Issues;
Contract Language

On this page:

Wednesday Morning

General President John Hovis opened the session by delivering the union’s demand that Health Care Preferred be fully negotiable, the same as any other benefit. Following his remarks the UE committee spent the morning presenting medical insurance proposals — including a demand that employee cost-sharing be substantially reduced.

Reviewing the history of Health Care Preferred (HCP), President Hovis reminded the company that the medical plan began in the early 1990s as an experimental program on a local basis, and was discussed for the first time as a company-wide program at the 1994 negotiations. What began as a managed care alternative to the traditional Comprehensive Medical Benefits plan now delivers benefits to 80% of GE employees. "With a majority of the workers that we represent signed up in HCP, this plan affects working conditions and compensation to such an extent that it should be fully negotiable by the union." The terms of HCP should be locked in for the full term of the agreement the same as any other benefit or condition, Hovis insisted.

"If the company is really interested in workers making informed decisions about health care as they claim to be, HCP has to be fully negotiable," the UE president declared.

John Curtin, the chief GE spokesperson, said the company prefers to keep HCP as an alternative plan, to keep the plan "as flexible as possible."

With four out of five GE workers covered by HCP, it’s no longer an alternative, said Stephen Tormey, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board. What the company is really saying is that it wants to be able to make substantive changes — specifically more cost-shifting — without interference by the union. It’s totally unacceptable now, and it will be on Sunday, June 25, for the company to expect workers to pay automatic insurance cost increases to GE.

Patrick Rafferty, Local 506, assured the company that UE members object to GE’s attempts to avoid the accountability of negotiations with regard to either HCP or the retirees’ MedicarePlus plan, which has been subjected to unilateral changes. "We don’t intend to tolerate that for retirees, and we certainly aren’t going to tolerate that for us," he said.

Larry Cook, GE benefits manager, told the UE committee that with rising costs and a changing market, "flexibility" is an important issue to the company. Curtin maintained that aspects of the plan are negotiable and suggested that the union’s goal is to deny GE the flexibility it needs. UE representatives responded that they are willing to concede some flexibility to the company, but insisted that workers have a right to know the terms of the plan and that the union has the right to negotiate those terms.

The company tells us it wants its employees to be educated, informed, proactive consumers of health care, but not to the extent of giving those employees a role in deciding the nature of their plan, Tormey said.

GE has raised the idea of a long term contract, noted President Hovis. "There’s no way I am going to stand in front of the membership and recommend a contract that doesn’t allow the union to have a say about this health-care plan, and gives the company a blank check to raise health care costs at any time, costs that will eat up any wage gains."

Betsy Potter, Local 618, Pat Campbell, Local 731, and Nita Gonzalez, Local 1010, discussed problems with HCP.

The UE committee proposed that GE workers have the same number of opportunities to switch into the Comprehensive Medical Benefits (CMB) plan as into HCP. Joyce Sumner and Bob Brown, Local 332, and Gonzalez advocated this change.

The union called on the company to substantially increase preventive care allowances, including those for mammograms, pap smears and prostate procedures, add well-baby and a voluntary annual physical exam to CMB, and cover all tests related to diabetes. Sumner, Brown and Bill Callahan, Local 751, spoke to the need for diagnostic tests for diabetes. The UE committee pointed out that more than 60% of large and medium firms provide physical exams; this prevalent practice would be in keeping with company’s claimed emphasis on preventative care.

UE proposed that the cost of ongoing therapy be fully covered under HCP after one co-payment. Brown, Callahan, Campbell, Rafferty, Sumner, David Adams, Local 506, and Lynda Leech, Local 618, offered examples from their own locations and experiences.

The union demanded that GE insurance provide for inpatient care for substance abuse and mental health cases, with inpatient admittance decisions to be decided by the attending physician. Adams recounted his years of difficulties in procuring inpatient for co-workers in need. A lot of people with substance abuse problems also have mental health problems and need the additional time in inpatient care, he said.

The UE committee proposed allowing for up to two hearing aids over three years and to establish an allowance for hearing aid repairs; substantially increasing all scheduled vision care benefits; and providing coverage for all corrective eye surgery. Betsy Potter pointed out that with the prevalence of computers in "e-friendly GE, our people are having more problem with their eyes. We want annual eye exams."

UE said that the equivalent of COBRA coverage should be offered from the date insurance lapses for 18 additional months.

The union insisted that the Short-Term Disability (STD) benefit be substantially increased, pointing out the replacement rate has fallen since the 1980s. STD was designed to be a 60%, cap-free, tax-free benefit, is nowhere near it today, and falling. The current $400 level is unreasonably low, said Pat Rafferty, who said the company is realizing cost improvement through case-management.

"We will be looking at improvements in STD," said GE’s Curtin.

The union said first-day STD coverage should be provided for ambulatory surgical treatment or care at non-hospital facilities or when hosptialized for less than "a day." David Adams and Pat Rafferty, Local 506, made the case for this proposal, adding that 18 hours constitute a "day" in such cases. In support, Bill Callahan, Local 751, blasted management pressure on hospitals that deny people proper care. Lynda Leech, Local 618, related her own personal horror story. While she was in a hospital emergency room at 4 a.m. with an acute case of appendicitis, the insurance company was telling the admitting doctor that she should be sent home. She underwent surgery later that day. "I’m dismayed that this happened," said Larry Cook, GE benefits manager.

Cost-shifting will not solve the underlying issues of the U.S. health care system, said UE’s Tormey. Despite a strong economy, that system is worse than it was three years ago. Some 45 million Americans are uninsured, and millions more are under-insured. When the inevitable economic downturn occurs the number of uninsured will rise exponentially. The profit motive is not a basis for delivering health care. GE is dismayed that prescription drug costs are going up, but the drug companies have only imitated GE’s marketing style, Tormey said. GE has made no contribution to solving the health care crisis; its only response has been to pass its problems onto its employees. "Our members resent it, and they are right to resent it," he said.

UE proposed that GE increase monthly minimum Long-Term Disability Insurance amounts, agree to share employee costs and make the "hard test" applicable after 24 months. The union also called for an open enrollment period during the term of the new contract.

The union proposed reduction of payment for employees under Special Benefits Protection from 50% to 25% of the HMO regional rate, arguing that the current level is "too high of a hurdle" for many workers. The UE committee also said that this program be extended to all those who retired under the Plant Closing Pension Option.

Turning to retirees’ insurance, UE called on GE to pay Medicare Part B premiums for retirees and spouses, including disabled spouses, active employees, and to add dental and vision care for retirees and spouses. UE also called on the company to substantially increase the benefits of the Medical Care Plan for Pensioners, the value of which has eroded with the increase in Medicare co-pays.

The simplest way of paying for these improvements is to tap into the pension plan’s $25 billion overfunding, the union said. "We place a very high priority on continued viability of post-65 medical benefits," Tormey told the company.

The union proposed an increase in the lifetime maximum in retirees’ plans. There is not yet a crisis, but as Pat Rafferty said, "this is an issue that weighs heavy on the minds of retirees."

In keeping with its philosophy of "an acceptable level of cost-sharing," GE should be prepared to share the costs of the United Health Care Plan as well as the Long-Term Care Plan, which the vast majority of GE workers can’t afford. UE also insisted that Medicare Plus be fully negotiable.

Turning to the dental plan, the union called on GE to substantially increase the scheduled benefits and eliminate the lower two zip codes. The UE committee pointed out the use of the zip codes is based on an outmoded concept and no longer reflects what dentists are charging for their services. The company should extend dental coverage to PCPO retirees.

The orthodontia maximum should be increased and dependents covered regardless of age. Coverage for prosthondontic and restorative procedures should be based on 85% instead of 50% of cost; the cap should be substantially increased. Eight years have gone by without an increase in the prosthodontia maximum, the union pointed out.

"Do you wish to contribute to the cost of the dental plan?" asked the GE spokesperson. Workers already contribute through deferred wages, responded Tormey.

The union also called for extension of coverage to spouses up to age 65 on the same basis as employees, and for coverage of TMJ and related procedures.

UE demanded that employee contributions, co-payments, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums be substantially reduced. The "spousal" contribution should be eliminated, along with state tax surcharges. The union called GE to restore the 30-day standard dosage for retail prescriptions, in place of the 21-day standard imposed three years ago.

The presentation yesterday morning by GE Vice President Robert Nelson gave ample evidence that GE is wealthy enough to afford these proposals, commented Tormey.

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Wednesday Afternoon

In the afternoon, the union made a number of contract language proposals with respect to hours and overtime, working conditions and apparatus service shops.

The UE committee proposed that GE pay double time and a half plus holiday pay for time worked on any holiday. "I don’t think we’ll be seeing much movement on this," said GE’s Curtin. "Don’t expect much movement toward the gates on holidays," said Tormey in response.

The union proposed that employees on continuous operations receive time and one half on Saturdays and double time on Sundays on the same basis as other employees. This demand provoked a lengthy discussion, with Bill Callahan, Local 751, reminding the company of the sacrifices workers on continuous operation make on the company’s behalf. The union proposed that double time should be paid for early report-ins and call-ins to second and third shifts on the same basis as first shift. The GE spokesperson said the company would also like to see this be uniform — with the first shift also receiving time and one half. Pat Campbell, Local 731, let the company know that call-ins are "an extreme inconvenience," especially in the Conneaut plant which has experienced a tremendous amount of overtime.

To provide relief for those still at work in GE plants, enhance job security and to create new employment, UE proposed that the regular workweek be reduced to 37.5 hours, Monday to Friday. Tormey pointed out that through legislation and collective bargaining workers in Europe have already achieved similar reductions. "I don’t see changing the schedule," said John Curtin for the company.

Turning to health and safety, the union proposed annual medical examinations at the company’s expense to those exposed to harmful or toxic substances, and called on the company to provide UE with the results of tests or monitoring. Tormey pointed out that GE workers have worked with PCBs, mercury and asbestos, and have suffered hearing losses, among other occupational hazards.

On behalf of apparatus service shop workers, UE proposed that the mileage rate be substantially increased, and that the company pay a 10% differential on outside jobs where overnight lodging is required; provide for a minimum allowance of $35 a day for meals when on outside jobs, and substantially increase the tool and safety shoe allowances.

Under Article XVII of the contract, UE called for provision of a union option to use an expedited procedure in discharge cases, since discharged workers can go many months without income and without knowing whether reinstatement will be won.

The union called on the company to provide a monthly list of new hires, with indication of union membership and agency fee-payer status, and to provide a monthly list of all employees laid off with recall rights. Both these proposals come under Article XIII.

On Thursday, the UE will present demands with regard to seniority, reduction and increase in force, and offer concluding arguments in support of the union’s bargaining program, as this phase of the negotiations draws to a close. Next week the UE committee will join with members of other CBC unions in the contract language and benefits in "large table" subcommittees, while "small table" negotiations with GE proceed simultaneously.

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