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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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