Issue Resonates Nationally —
GE Strike Makes Its Point
SENDING A MESSAGE TO GE: Some 20,000 union
workers employed by the General Electric Co. hit the picket lines on Tuesday and Wednesday, January 14 and 15, to protest GE's
decision to shift more health care costs onto the backs of its employees. Pictured above are UE members in Erie, PA (top photo and
second row, right), Hudson Falls, NY (second row, left photos), and Ontario, California (bottom). The strike was conducted by
both UE and the IUE/CWA.
UE members in locals from New England to California have 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, in which about three quarters of GE workers are enrolled, UE members stopped work on January 14 and 15, at 16 different
bargaining units across the country. They 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.
GE had announced its intent to increase substantially the costs to members 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 intent to effect the increases on January 1, 2003. This
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 had rejected the 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 (see: UE Sets Date for National Strike Against GE). UE
members endorsed strike action in overwhelming numbers, and in many cases braved freezing temperatures and snowy conditions to man picket
lines over the two-day period (see: GE Strike:
'Impressive Display of Solidarity and Resolve').
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.
The union did not expect that the two-day strike would result in GE canceling the increases. Rather as General President
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 was successful 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.