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UE-GE National Contract Negotiations

Short Takes

Getting Globally Competitive
Local 506 Marks MLK Day, Builds Unity
GE: A "Giving" Company
"Doing More With Less"
Integrity, Anyone?
Strictly by the Book
Sigma or Stigma?
Corporate Welfare


No doubt about it, GE has a big problem. Since everything they do is justified in terms of "competitiveness", the Company desperately needs to find someone or something to compete against. After all, the $10.7 billion net profits they reported for 1999 puts them at the top of the corporate heap. Moreover, all of the business pundits recognize them as the world’s most powerful company. What worlds are left for them to conquer?

Therein lies the answer. Since there’s no one is left in the corporate world to match GE, it’s time for them to start competing against the world itself! In fact a look at the figures shows that GE is already doing surprisingly well in the world arena.

A comparison of GE’s revenues ($110 Billion for 1999) with the latest figures available for the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) worldwide reveals GE is already doing so well at this global game that it takes in more than all but about 33 countries on the entire planet!

That means GE revenues are bigger than the GDP’s of Hungary, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Ireland, Egypt, the Philippines and Colombia among many others. In the last two years it has overtaken Israel, Malaysia, and Portugal, and is rapidly closing in on Finland, Greece, and even oil-rich Saudi Arabia!

Of course coming in 33rd violates Jack Welch’s commandment that GE must be #1 or a strong #2 in all of its businesses. And GE still has a ways to go before it displaces the current top two which are the good old USA and Japan. Perhaps one of these will be a candidate for GE’s next big acquisition or at least a prospective joint venture partner!

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Last January 17, GE workers across the country enjoyed a paid holiday on the occasion of the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s birthday. Many used the time off to participate in activities honoring King and the civil rights movement. UE Local 506 in Erie, for example, participated in a Memorial March on the day, joining with Erie civil rights and community organizations.

Local 506 has established a Unity Committee which last November received the first "Unity in Diversity" award presented by the Citizens Against Racism of Erie (C.A.R.E.). As reported by the Local 506 Union News, the committee has worked to develop awareness of racial issues. In addition, when called upon, the committee has intervened to help resolve actual or potential problems among workers in the shop involving racial or sexual harassment problems.

It’s also worth remembering that it took five sets of negotiations before GE finally agreed, kicking and screaming, to add MLK day as a paid holiday under the National Contract. MLK day became a recognized federal holiday in 1984, but not for GE until 1998, following a breakthrough in the last hour of the 1997 negotiations.

Finally, we should keep in mind that King was not merely a dreamer as he is so often portrayed in the mainstream press. He was, above all, a doer, an activist, an agitator, and an organizer.

His fatal trip to Memphis in 1968 was undertaken in support of striking garbage workers there. Local 506’s continuing efforts to build unity represents the best tribute that can be made to King and to the many others who have devoted themselves to the cause of social and economic justice and equality for all.

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Like any wise investor, GE believes in a balanced portfolio. They’re taking no chances with respect to the next President or Congress. Based on figures released in January by the Federal Election Commission, GE’s PAC has ponied up over $400,000 to various candidates during the 1999-2000 election cycle with 43% of the money going to Democrats and 57% to Republicans.

In addition, GE ranks in the corporate top ten in giving so-called "soft money", not tied to any specific candidate, to the two major parties. So far this amounts to another $347,000 of which $265,000 went to the Republican Party and $82,000 to the Democrats. And remember the elections are still nine months away!

But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. In recent years there have grown up various nonprofit organizations with innocent sounding names which exist solely to do the corporations’ dirty work on political and economic issues. Because these outfits can’t be tied directly to political work, but pass themselves off as having an "educational" function, all contributions they receive are tax deductible.

By using these front organizations, GE and other companies are able to maintain a low public profile on many issues while effectively renting a mouthpiece at taxpayer expense. To cite just one example, in 1998 GE gave $500,000 to an outfit called Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE). After all, who could be against that? It turns out however that CSE spends all of its time educating about the evils of any sort of regulation on the activities of corporations, which they tell us pay too much in taxes.

CSE’s campaigns make extensive use of TV ads, and in 1998 included backing the defeated California initiative, the so-called "paycheck protection" question, which would have effectively muzzled unions from participating in the political process. CSE has also spent millions opposing both a Federal plan to restore the Everglades, and higher cigarette taxes at the behest of the sugar and tobacco companies respectively.

So as the political season warms up in y2K, you can be sure GE will be getting its message out, either straight from the mouths of Democrats and Republicans alike or through various fronts like CSE. As GE sees it, it’s better to give and to receive.

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GE is so good at getting rid of people that it’s easy to overlook the fact that they sometimes actually hire folks as well. One place they have been looking for recruits is in the ranks of the military. In the last four years in fact, they’ve hired well over 1,000 former military officers to exempt jobs around the company.

And the reason for this hiring wave? Well, it seems that one thing the military teaches is obedience to higher authority, combined with unquestioning acceptance of whatever the mission is as determined by that higher authority. It’s a nice fit for GE which is always looking for what Welch calls "true believers" in GE’s mission — ever higher profits.

And according to one employment recruiting executive, as quoted in the Wall Street Jounal, "Everyone in the military is being forced to do more with less. That is exactly what is happening in corporate America." We would qualify the statement by saying that it’s workers and not executives who are doing more with less. Evidently Jack thinks that ex-military officers will do a good job of squeezing more juice from the lemon. Atten-hut!

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Having ponied up $3.5 Billion for the rights to televise the next five Olympic Games, GE is taking a "see no evil" approach to the ongoing Olympics scandal. So what if many International Olympic Committee (IOC) members, including IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch, have for years been taking what amounts to bribes from various cities competing to host the games? What’s important is NBC’s TV ratings for the games, which determine what it can charge for advertising. NBC sports chief Dick Ebersole has taken to defending Samaranch and the IOC against its critics, calling them "self-serving".

But just who is serving themselves? It turns out that some time back Samaranch made an NBC official, Alex Gilady, a full fledged member of the IOC. Gilady had hung around Olympic committee meetings for years, and was informally known as the "delegate from NBC". He was wearing both his NBC and IOC hats at the same time Samaranch was cutting a secret deal with NBC giving them ten years worth of Olympic rights without the other networks even having a chance to bid.

We seem to remember something about ethical business practices and avoiding conflicts of interest the last time we glanced through GE’s Integrity booklet. Oh well, with $3.5 Billion at stake, boys will be boys!

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Evidently GE isn’t comfortable with the idea of people deciding for themselves what to read. Last year, an excellent book came out entitled At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit. The author, business writer Thomas O’Boyle, took a critical look at GE’s record of lawbreaking, job elimination, and environmental recklessness as well as Welch’s ceaseless demands for ever higher profit numbers. It turns out the GE was aware of the project and on several occasions attempted to intimidate O’Boyle with implied threats of legal action. This included contacting his publisher, supposedly because GE was worried that the book would be "biased" or "libelous".

By contrast, GE’s publicity machine has been lavish in its praise of NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw’s book entitled "The Greatest Generation", about those who came of age during World War Two. Brokaw has made many appearances on NBC and affiliated networks promoting the book. What GE neglected to tell anyone is that NBC owns about 25% of the book and therefore profits from every copy sold, even while they shamelessly pitch it to their viewers.

As for Jack Welch’s recommended reading list, we doubt that it contains any books. Rather, according to a letter he sent to stockholders, he expects all GE employees to memorize Six Sigma principles by the time he retires! It’s a fitting legacy for Jack. He’s downsized everything else. Why should he view GE workers’ intelligence any differently?

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Speaking of Six Sigma, we are indebted to a member of UE Local 1010 in Ontario, CA who passed on to us news of a major Six Sigma breakthrough. His report follows:

GE R&D Discovers New Element

Investigators at the GE R&D Center of Excellence recently discovered the heaviest element known to science and have tentatively named it Sixsigmium. Sixsigmium has no protons or electrons, thus having atomic number of 0. It has however .1 neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by a force that involves the continuous exchange of mason-like particles called morons, or in some circles, "Black Belts". It is also surrounded by lepton-like particles called peons, also referred to as "Green Belts". Since it has no electrons, Sixsigmium is inert. However it can be detected chemically as it impedes every reaction it comes in contact with.

According to its discoverers, a minute amount of Sixsigmium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally have occurred in less than one second. Sixsigmium has a half-life of approximately six years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons, vice neutrons, and assistant vice neutrons exchange places.

In fact, a Sixsigmium sample’s mass will actually increase over time, since with each reorganization the morons inevitably become neutrons, forming new isotopes. This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to speculate that Sixsigmium is spontaneously formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as the critical morass.

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GE likes to portray itself as a company that "does the right thing", including donating to worthy causes. In 1997 for example, GE’s corporate foundation gave away $40 million to charities. That sounds nice until you realize that in that same year Jack Welch alone grossed more than double that amount in salary, bonus, new stock options, and exercised stock appreciation rights. It would appear that for GE, charity really does begin at home.

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