Hovis: 'GE employees have earned a fair and
balanced contract ...'
On the final day of the first phase of negotiations,
the UE committee completed its presentation of the union’s
demands. Meeting for the last time with GE bargainers as a
committee, the union representatives offered their individual
thoughts on the key issues to be addressed by an agreement. And GE’s
chief spokesperson reiterated the company’s theme of
The UE committee began its work with proposals for
improvement in the language in Article VII. First, the union
proposed continued accumulation of service credits of up to two
years for absences due to compensable illness and injury, and up to
18 months for layoffs. This is proposed, explained Stephen Tormey,
secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, as both an economic benefit
and a job security proposal. Patrick Rafferty, Local 506, described
for the company that many victims of the company’s layoffs have
experienced additional hardship as a result of GE’s application of
the present rules. These same workers were also punished by the
"continuing absence" rule in Article VII, which the union
said should be eliminated.
The union proposed that all service credits lost
during past strikes be restored. "This is a proposal we have
seen a number of times," said John Curtin, the GE spokesperson.
"I don’t think we’ll change." Tormey pointed out that
in 1973 the company did restore service credits for time lost during
the 1969-70 strike, a period of much greater duration than the
handful of grievance strikes that would be affected by this
proposal. And he took the opportunity to blast the company’s
published threat in the GE benefits book to terminate insurance
benefits in the event of a grievance strike. The theat "is one
more dirty trick the company uses to fight organizing."
The UE committee proposed restoration of service
credits for prior periods of GE service after one year rather than
the current three years. The current duration, said Rafferty,
"is way too long to have to worry about restoring that service
and having some kind of security." To Curtin’s comment that
three years is "a reasonable period," Rafferty pointed out
that those affected were forced out of the plant by GE and lost
recall rights. "They’re decent employees, that’s why you’ve
hired them twice," said Bill Callahan, Local 751. "One
year gives you plenty of time." David Adams, Local 506, said
that in encouraging a former employee to return as a replacement
under the SERO "window," he was asked, "Can GE
guarantee me three years’ employment?" Curtin commented,
"We can’t guarantee three days."
Under Article XX, the union proposed that Section
1(c) be amended to provide that shift transfer requests be
considered on a plantwide as well as a departmental basis. In the
first of several such exchanges, the GE representatives said the
issue was best handled on the local level — only to have the UE
bargainers say that there were specifically told by local management
to bring the matter to national negotiations!
With regard to Article XII, UE proposed that
position within the progression system be eliminated as a factor in
reductions in force. Pat Rafferty and Lynda Leech and Betsy Potter,
Local 618, described how position in the progression scheduled has
been used in an arbitrary and punitive manner. Also under Article
XII, Section 1, employees who meet minimum job requirements be
recalled to available openings, and that preference in job openings
be given to former employees who lost recall rights over new hires.
When the company representatives complained of possible
administrative headaches, Ted Bradley, Local 1010, pointed out that
the experience at the Ontario, California jet engine repair facility
is that the company cooperated with the union in finding former
employees who had exhausted recall, to everyone’s advantage. Joyce
Sumner and Bob Brown, Local 332, said that at the Fort Edward, New
York plant, former workers call looking for work but the company isn’t
interested. "It’s ludicrous to be hiring off the
street," complained Pat Rafferty. But Erie management
"absolutely refused to recognize" the new skills gained by
former workers once laid off.
Under Article XII, Section 10, the union called for
uniform 18 months of rights to return to a former job, and under the
same article, said that displacement rights should be based on
minimum qualifications for one-month schedule jobs. This proposal
could result in lots of training at considerable expense, objected
GE’s Curtin. Potter of Local 618 said she has seen
union-represented clerks with 25 and 30 years of service have to
endure countless interviews.
All restrictions on lateral and downward moves (in
Article XXVIII) should be eliminated, the UE committee said. This
would benefit "older workers who would like to get out of a job
gracefully, so they can continue to do their best," explained
Joyce Sumner, Local 332. Such a move would save the company and
employee additional costs due to medical transfer or disability
leave, added Pat Rafferty and Bob Brown. "At the local level
many times these things can be worked out," said John Curtin.
This bouncing back and forth between the local level and national
talks "is another reason we don’t want a five-year
contract," argued Rafferty.
Continuing with Article XXVIII (Upgrading and Job
Posting) demands, the union said that all jobs within the
three-month progression schedule should be awarded to the senior
bidder with minimum qualifications, and that all employees with
recall rights be included as "present employees’ for the
purpose of this article. Carl Roberts of the GE committee objected
that this last proposal would be "a can of worms!" Pat
Rafferty and Lynda Leech wanted to know why bringing former
employees back to the plant would be more difficult than hiring from
As its final demand, the union said new language
should be included in Article IV (Discrimination and Coercion) that
insured full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,
including a guarantee of "reasonable accommodation" where
appropriate. This would help people’s understanding of their
rights, the UE committee said.
"That’s our modest set of proposals,"
said Tormey. "I wouldn’t call them modest," responded
Curtin. "That depends on what side of the table you sit
on," commented Joyce Sumner.
Delivering a statement from the company to mark the
end of the first phase of negotiations, Curtin praised the union’s
Hovis and Tormey for their "clarity of presentation" and
"unwavering commitment" to the membership, and hailed the
"class and professionalism" of the UE committee. "The
company will offer improvements to an already strong package of
wages and benefits," Curtin said. GE will seek a settlement
that "recognizes the contributions of employees" while
enabling the company to retain and attract the "talented
people" needed for the company’s continuing success. UE
proposals based on the company’s record over the last three years
and ability to pay would hinder GE’s ability to succeed in the
future, he said. GE needs continued "flexibility," Curtin
stressed. The contract cannot give workers or company all of what
each side wants but must give union members and GE businesses
"enough of what each need."
Members of the UE committee next gave their
A first-time participant, Bob Brown of Local 332,
was struck by the company’s use of the "three-legged
stool" metaphor for retirement income. That’s an
"archaic symbol," Brown said. He used a such a stool in
first job, milking cows, and it didn’t provide much support.
"GE should be able to provide everyone a fair pension,"
Brown declared. GE workers deserve improvements in medical
insurance. Local 332 members think they’ve taken too many hits on
insurance costs already, "going forward they don’t want to
take any more." Brown concluded by suggesting that company and
union "begin the new millennium by working together."
‘More than other local," said Betsy Potter,
Local 618 has been eroded as result of company job-destruction
policies. "We must have a job preservation steering committee
with meaning, that can bring back and create the work we know
exists." Potter stressed the need for a sizeable wage increase
and a real COLA, "to make up for wage disparity of past."
The union must have the ability to negotiate Health Care Preferred,
Potter said; her co-workers are "seriously concerned"
about the state of GE’s medical plans. "We didn’t dream up
these demands," she concluded. "They are representative of
what our members need and they back them strongly."
"UE has bargained in good faith for a fair and
reasonable contract," said Lynda Leech, Local 618. She believes
that workers can’t live with a contract beyond three years in
duration, and called for retention of the Special Early Retirement
Option (SERO) and SERO 30. GE regards plant closings as just another
cost of doing business without respect for workers’ knowledge and
experience. The long-service workers who belong to her local deserve
an excellent pension and don’t deserve to have their level of
medical care dictated by insurance companies. "We are proud to
be GE employees, we want a contract we can be proud of," Leech
The UE committee has demonstrated it seeks a
balanced contract, dealing with an array of issues of concern to GE
workers, said Pat Rafferty, Local 506. The union’s proposals have
come out of the real-life experiences of those workers over the past
three years. The contract’s job and income security should be
improved, with more latitude and serious attention given to the job
preservation steering committees (including one for Local 618) and
more cooperation from company in bringing jobs, including high-tech
work, into the plants. Rafferty also laid particular stress on
improvements in disability insurance, pensions both early and
regular, and continuation of SERO. The stress in GE jobs today
requires retirement with 30 years’ service, he declared. GE
workers ask for rollback in health insurance costs, not added cost
sharing — insurance improvements have been "amply paid
for" by productivity gains. Local 506 members are not
interested in an extended contract. More than three years is too
long, given workers’ job security fears and the union’s lack of
a say over HCP.
GE workers are educated health-care consumers, said
David Adams, Local 506, and that’s why they insist that HCP should
be fully negotiable. GE should consider its health care expenditures
as an investment in its workforce. Since Jack Welch says there are
many ideal candidates for his position, there should be no need for
a five-year contract, Adams suggested. The company wants to know
what we will do for GE tomorrow after three years of tomorrows,
record level weeks of production that led to record years of
profits. The company must improve the language in Article XXIII (Job
and Income Security) and allow negotiations to begin well in advance
of potential job loss.
"I’m here to let you know that my local
opposes any more cost shifting on the medical insurance, we want
the medical improved," declared Pat Campbell, Local 731.
"I keep hearing ‘fair and equitable’ from the company. With
your profits, that should mean substantial increases." Conneaut
workers want prescription drugs supplied without hassles. And, she
concluded, "an earlier age of retirement, that’s why my
members sent me here."
The Ontario plant "is taking some real hits,
with work transfers and consequent layoffs of between 280 and
300," commented Ted Bradley, Local 1010. Retention of the SERO
replacement program and early retirement would help both the older
workers still on the job and younger workers on layoff, he said.
Nita Gonzalez, also of Local 1010, argued that job
security issues are no less important for Ontario workers because
they rebuild aircraft engines plant instead of producing a new
product. Accordingly, they should be treated no differently than
production workers under Article XXIII.
The company convinced workers to move from the
Comprehensive Medical Benefits plan into HCP with the lure of lower
costs, now GE is hitting workers with ever-increasing cost-shifting.
"I see only the greed of GE," Gonzalez objected. "I
see no reason to pay more for our medical coverage."
Niles and Mahoning Glass workers have a lot of
problems with cost sharing, indicated Bill Callahan, Local 751.
"We don’t expect nor want an increase in costs. We’ll be
stepping up to some serious trouble," he said. "HCP must
be negotiable, we want to have a say in how that’s put together,
that’s very important." The minimum pension tables and career
earning formula need to be increased, the SERO windows must be in
place, Callahan said. Sick and personal time, and more paid time off
in general, are priorities. Callahan also stressed improvements in
wages and COLA. "I would be hard pressed to go back to my
location and say we have an extended contract," he concluded.
"I expect three years is long enough to make adjustments and
make sure we meet the needs of our members.
"The message from my members is that insurance
should not be any more expensive than it is already," declared
Joyce Sumner, Local 332. HCP should be totally negotiable, she said.
SERO 30 and the "Window" must be kept in place to protect
people and there must be a significant increase pension benefits,
she said. "The need for sick and personal time is so
important," Sumner stressed. "We all need a wage increase,
COLA improvement is essential, and death in the family should mean
five days’ leave across the board."
The union heard a lot of references to
"competitors" and "competitiveness," noted
Stephen Tormey, who shared with the company a quote from Jack Welch,
in which the GE Chairman said
the company can’t be compared in any way against the traditional
competition. GE may have some competition, but no real competitors,
worthy of the name to impede the company’s rampaging
profitability. Tormey had two additional demands for GE: that the
company adhere to defined international labor rights and standards
in every country in which it does business, and that the company pay
no less than the equivalent of the U.S. minimum wage to all foreign
employees. The real competition GE workers face is the ever-higher
profit hurdles the company sets for us, Tormey said. "We live
in a turbo-charged environment of purposeful insecurity." We
cannot change the system that GE is a major part of between now and
June 25, but we can make improvements in our lot, he said.
The UE committee has presented GE with proposals for
a well-balanced contract that the company can afford, said President
John Hovis. GE is a fast-moving, innovative company in every area
except labor relations. "GE employees have produced, they’ve
earned everything they’ve asked for, and they ask the company to
produce in the same fashion," Hovis declared.
On Monday, June 18, the small committee, consisting
of representatives of UE (Hovis and Tormey) and the other major
unions in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee, will begin meeting
top GE bargainers. On Tuesday, June 19, the two "big
tables" of CBC and GE negotiators will begin meeting on
contract language and benefits.
Representing UE in the third week of negotiations
were General President John Hovis, Stephen Tormey, secretary of the
UE-GE Conference Board, Research Director Lisa Frank, Bob Brown and
Joyce Sumner, Local 332, David Adams and Patrick Rafferty, Local
506, Lynda Leech and Betsy Potter, Local 618, Pat Campbell, Local
731, Bill Callahan, Local 751, and Ted Bradley and Nita Gonzalez,
Local 1010. International Representative Chris Townsend represented
UE at the IUE table.