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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.

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Thursday, June 15th

UE Negotiators
Finish Presenting
Union Demands

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 "flexibility."

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 the street.

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 individual comments.

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 concluded.

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.

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