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UE-GE National Contract Negotiations

A Step in the Right Direction...
GE Retirees Demonstrate
For Higher Pensions —
Win Increase

GE retirees campaign for ... and win pension increase ...

The hard work and perseverance that GE retirees and members have devoted to the issue of a pension increase has paid off with the announcement by GE that the first pension hike to retirees since November of 1996, some three and one half years ago, would take effect on May 1.

GE’s announcement, made on April 17, came on the heels of a series of demonstrations across the country by retirees, supported by active GE workers and the various unions in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC). The retirees’ rallies received extensive publicity, which image-conscious GE no doubt factored in to their decision to grant an increase.


In Erie, PA the Retirees Association of General Electric, (R.A.G.E.) turned out well over 200 of their members for a plant gate demonstration on April 12. They were joined by the officers and stewards of UE Locals 506 and 618 who marched out of the plant to participate in the rally.

R.A.G.E. members demonstrate in Erie ...

The Retirees Association of General Electric, (R.A.G.E.) turned out well over 200 of their members for a plant gate demonstration in Erie on April 12

The demonstrators heard from RAGE Chairman Charlie Fry, who decried the company’s refusal to provide increases to hard pressed retirees. Fry pointed out that the pension was now overfunded to the tune of $25 billion, and accordingly there is no question that the Company could easily afford not only to grant a substantial increase, but also to build ongoing cost of living adjustments (COLA) into the pension plan as well.

The crowd also heard pledges of support from Local 506 President Dave Adams, who stated the matter would forcefully be taken up with GE in upcoming National Contract negotiations, as well as from Local 618 President Betsy Potter. The demonstration was the subject of a major article in the Erie Morning News, and was covered as well on local television and radio stations.

Retirees also turned out in well over a dozen other cities during that same week, including large gatherings in Schenectady, NY and Lynn, MA. In Schenectady, not only did the pensioners’ demonstration get extensive coverage, but former Schenectady worker Helen Quirini, a longtime activist on behalf of GE retirees, and an ex-UE member, was the subject of an extensive profile in the Albany Times-Union. In Fort Wayne, Indiana retired former IUE Local 901 members were joined by former UE Local 924 members from Decatur.

134,000 AFFECTED —

How the May 1 Pension Increase
Applies to Most GE Retirees

Eligible GE retirees will receive a pension benefit increase on May 1. For most retirees the increase is based on the year pension benefits began and the length of service under the GE Pension Plan.  
  Annual Increase for Each Year of Pension Service

Before 1975   $60
1975-1981   $50
1982   $40
1983-1985   $30
1986   $20
1987   $19
1988   $18
1989   $17
1990   $16
1991   $15
1992   $14
1993   $13
1994   $12
1995   $11
Jan. 1996 -
June 1997
Examples: A 35-year employee who retired before 1975 will receive a $2,100 per year increase. A pensioner with the same service who retired in 1981 will have a $1,650 annual pension increase.  
Eligible retirees are those who retired directly from the service of GE and those who left the company before retirement with 25 or more years of pension service provided they did not withdraw contributions from the plan. Surviving spouses of deceased eligible retirees will also qualify for increases based on the survivorship option in effect.  

Source: GE


According to GE the increase will affect more than 134,000 GE retirees, with the greatest amounts going to those who have been retired the longest (see accompanying chart). In addition eligible surviving spouses will receive an increase based on the particular option in effect.

Another significant aspect of the increase is the raising of the minimum multiplier to $18 times years of service. This will affect those who are receiving less than that after the increase is calculated. Previous to this the minimum pension was as low as $10.50 times years of service. According to GE, this raise will bring about 11,000 retirees up to the new $18 minimum. In his letter to the company last December calling on GE to increase retirees’ pensions, UE President John Hovis emphasized the need to increase the minimum substantially.


While there is no question that this badly needed increase is a step in the right direction, it also contains some disappointments. For example, the vast majority of GE vestees who separated from the Company with less than 25 years of service will not benefit from the raise. For many of these vestees, their departure from GE was hardly a voluntary decision, but resulted from plant closings and sales, transfers of work, and various other manifestations of GE’s slash and burn policies. GE pensioners who left the Company after June, 1997 similarly will not receive anything.

In addition, the Company has not provided for any ongoing COLA protection to arrest the continuing loss of purchasing power that GE retirees face. In 1999, the surplus of assets over projected obligations in the pension plan zoomed upward by the stupendous amount of $9 billion. The surplus which had stood at $16 billion at the end of 1998, has now reached $25 billion or double the plan’s obligations.


In the context of this astounding level of overfunding, the Company is clearly on the defensive when it comes to the demands of GE retirees. That this increase does not dispose of the matter was apparent at the GE stockholder’s meeting held on April 26 in Richmond, VA. There RAGE members joined with GE retirees from many different locations to leaflet, demonstrate, and to once again take the company to task for inadequate pensions and the lack of a pension COLA.

There is also no question that despite GE’s official refusal to bargain with the Union on the subject, we intend to raise retirees’ issues in upcoming negotiations. This is the case not only with respect to the level of pension benefits, but also with issues of medical coverage. The GE Medical Care Plan for Pensioners for example has no provision for dental or eyeglass coverage.

For now however, we commend the efforts of the many GE retirees across the country and their supporters in GE locals, for their efforts and struggle that set the stage for this increase. Many of them have been at it for years. Congratulations on a job well done!

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