Local 506 Limits
Subcontracting Job Loss
At Erie GE; Effort Continues
On Jan. 24, General Electric announced its intention to eliminate about 215 jobs through subcontracting at its vast
manufacturing complex here. UE Local 506 succeeded in reducing that number to 47 and hasn’t stopped its effort to save those jobs, too.
Committees of rank-and-file members spent weeks investigating and analyzing the company’s reasons for subcontracting and
developing proposals, many of which were eventually accepted by GE.
At the outset, the local union’s top officers — Pres. Randy Majewski, Bus. Agent Pat Rafferty and Chief
Plant Steward David Kitchen — laid the groundwork by declaring that the loss of 215 jobs through outsourcing was unacceptable.
That was an important step, stresses Kitchen, because it set a clear goal and direction.
Local 506 benefited from improvements won by the union in the last two UE-GE National Agreements. Frustrated with the
hollowness of decision "bargaining" that usually followed GE transfer-of-work announcements, the union in 1997 negotiated
"job preservation steering committees." These gave the union a new forum in which to argue for job retention and the return of
outsourced work, and against further work transfers before any final decisions were made.
During the 1997-2000 contract term, Local 506 built its own job preservation committee. The union developed an inventory,
building by building, skill by skill, of precisely how the facility operated, detailing uses of personnel, raw material, energy, and other
factors. During the 2000 negotiations, Local 506 led a successful fight to strengthen language in the national agreement on job
Within two weeks of the company’s January announcement, Local 506 worked through the job preservation steering committee
to assemble six groups, ranging in size from three to six members. Selected for the project were members knowledgeable about specific work
processes as well as stewards and job preservation committee members. As Kitchen explains, the groups were told they were free to conduct
their own investigation inside the plant, make information requests of the company, and talk among themselves before presenting their
findings to the officers.
The group’s mandate also included the defense of the rights and conditions of their co-workers: there should be no
GE assigned management personnel to work with the groups and provided extensive information on its claimed in-house costs
as well as its anticipated savings from the proposed subcontracting.
For several weeks, the union members scrutinized the information area by area, raised questions, asked for more
information, sought clarification and developed proposals. Kitchen emphasizes that the groups worked diligently and creatively.
"Giving them real stuff to do, they really liked that," he says.
Union members succeeded in demonstrating that in many cases, GE’s savings scenarios were simply inaccurate. And they
devised alternatives for each affected work area which included methods changes and other efficiencies that offset the supposed savings
from outsourcing the work.
Beginning in early March, the groups presented proposals to the officers, which were then taken to negotiations with
management. The company responded on April 8, accepting UE proposals for two-thirds of the areas. The groups are continuing to meet to
implement the recommendations and to work on the outstanding proposals.
The UE local has made it clear to GE that the company "owes" union members 47 jobs. "We’re either going
to resolve the remaining 47 jobs or find new work for the 47," Kitchen says.
Underlying the process was solid membership support for the union effort. The jobs GE sought to eliminate, in production
and trades, were broadly representative of the type of work Erie GE workers perform. "That got everyone’s attention," Kitchen
"While this has been largely a defensive battle on the part of Local 506, it demonstrates that the bad results that
generally flow from GE’s job-cutting announcements need not be inevitable," says Stephen Tormey, secretary of the GE
UE News - 6/02