Step in the Right Direction...
GE Retirees Demonstrate
For Higher Pensions —
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
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
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 —
MINIMUM PENSION RAISED
the May 1 Pension Increase
Applies to Most GE Retirees
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.
Increase for Each Year of Pension Service
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.
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.
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.
STEP IN THE RIGHT
DIRECTION ... BUT ...
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.
MORE BATTLES AHEAD
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
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!