Two-Day Strike Against GE
Protests Medical Cost-Shifting
UE members in locals from New England to California on Jan. 14-15 successfully completed the first national strike against
General Electric in 33 years. Responding to the company’s medical cost-shifting in its Health Care Preferred (HCP) managed care
insurance plan, UE members stopped work at 16 different bargaining units across the country.
UE members were joined by members of the IUE/CWA, the only other union with a national contract in the GE chain.
Altogether nearly 20,000 GE workers were on strike.
The strike sets the stage for national negotiations in May.
About three quarters of GE workers are enrolled in HCP. Last year, GE sought to increase substantially the costs to
workers and pre-65 retirees enrolled in HCP for prescription drugs, medical specialists, and emergency room care, as well as introducing
for the first time a co-pay for in-hospital admissions. A contract provision allows the company to seek such mid-contract increases in HCP
but GE had never invoked it until 2002.
When negotiations came to impasse last July, GE announced its intention to effect the increases on Jan. 1, 2003 —
despite the fact that the entire UE-GE National Agreement is up for negotiation this year, with an expiration date of June 15.
UE-GE Conference Board delegates rejected GE’s proposed takeaways in a meeting last summer. When the Conference Board
reconvened in December, delegates unanimously resolved to take strike action after the first of the year. UE members endorsed strike
action in overwhelming numbers, and in many cases braved freezing temperatures and snowy conditions to maintain picket lines over the
NATIONAL NEWS, NATIONAL CRISIS
The strike received a tidal wave of national publicity, serving as front-page news in dozens of newspapers. The action was
extensively covered on television and radio as well. With virtually every union contract negotiation marked by employer attempts at
insurance cost shifting, and with GE set to report record net profits of about $15 billion for 2002, the resistance of GE workers to the
company’s attack resonated nationally.
Reported Forbes.com: "The health care cost fire burning at General Electric looks likely to spread to other
companies... Expect to see more wars between U.S. workers and corporations over health insurance in the coming year."
The California Nurses Association, in a statement backing the GE strikers, declared: "What’s happening at GE is a
reflection of a general crisis over healthcare affecting millions of working people."
The 20-million-member International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers (ICEM), based in Brussels,
Belgium, expressed its full support for the striking GE workers. Both UE and the IUE/CWA are ICEM affiliates. "The ICEM stands in
complete solidarity with our affiliates on strike at GE and will do whatever we can to assist them," said Genl. Sec. Fred Higgs.
In a protest letter to GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt, Higgs wrote, "Shifting health costs on those
least able to afford them is not an answer to the health care crisis in the United States."
The union did not expect that the two-day strike would cause GE to cancel the increases. Rather, as Genl. Pres. John
Hovis noted, "the strike is intended to demonstrate the membership’s opposition to GE’s cost-shifting, to exact a price from
GE for its action, and to mobilize resistance to GE’s stated intention to seek additional cost- shifting in contract negotiations to be
held later this year." Reports from the various GE work sites confirm that the strike succeeded on all of these counts.
The strike was marred by the tragic death of IUE/CWA member Kjeston Michelle Rodgers, a 40-year old single mother
of three, who was accidentally hit by a police car while picketing at GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. Upon learning of the
tragedy, many Local 506 and Local 618 picketers at the GE locomotive works in Erie put on yellow ribbons in tribute to Rodgers.
GE Strike Makes Its Point
(UE News 1/17/03)
'Impressive Display of Solidarity and Resolve' (UE News Update 1/15/03)
UE Sets Date for National Strike Against GE (1/8/03)
Locals Prepare ffor National Strike Action (12/16/02)
Striking Back Against GE's Greed (online flier)
UE News - 1/03