Ontario GE Workers
Share in Back Pay Award
Thanks to vigilant enforcement of the provisions of the UE-GE National
Agreement, 112 workers at the GE aircraft engine maintenance and repair facility here have
divided up nearly a quarter of a million dollars in back pay. This settlement comes over a
year after UE Local 1010 charged the company with underpaying newly hired workers.
In early 1997 in response to securing some significant new contracts, GE
began hiring aircraft engine mechanics at a rapid pace. In trying to secure fully
qualified mechanics, GE advertised widely, and even organized and participated in job
fairs in their search for top notch applicants. By February 1997, mechanics were being
hired at the rate of about 20 per week. Eventually 217 new employees were engaged.
However, Local 1010 officers quickly discovered that many of the new hires
were being paid only 70 percent of the job rate and placed under an extended wage
progression schedule that would prolong to three years the time it would take to make full
rate. This extended schedule is provided for in the contract, but applies only to lower
skilled jobs within the wage structure. GE was forced to acknowledge their error in the
grievance procedure; affected employees were made whole.
GE then decided that they would start many of the newly hired mechanics
four steps below the job rate, with a wage progression step to be paid each six months.
While this would normally be the correct procedure, a longstanding provision of the UE-GE
National Contract provides that "applicants experienced on the job for which hired
will begin at a rate not less than two steps below the job rate and will be increased to
the job rate within six months, if qualified."
Local 1010 filed a new grievance under this provision. Not only were the
new hires obviously highly experienced, the vast majority were FAA licensed. Whats
more, the union proved that such new hires had always been paid within two steps of job
rate in the past. Nevertheless, GE steadfastly refused to change its position. At one
point, management said that only those who had worked on GE engines, as opposed to those
of other aircraft engine manufacturers, would be considered "experienced."
At the third step grievance meeting, GEs corporate union relations
representative conceded that he would hate to have to tell a non-GE customer that work on
their engines paid less and was being performed by inexperienced mechanics. The grievance
was referred back to Ontario for further discussion.
Instead of a discussion, however, GE management in Ontario read a prepared
statement that they would move affected workers to job rate, but without any back pay.
This they stated was "final." Local Pres. Al Estrada responded that the UE Local
1010 membership and not GE would be the ones to decide what would be final.
The grievance was again referred to the third step of the procedure and
back once again to the local level, after which the Ontario management underwent a marked
attitude adjustment. The settlement not only includes immediate advancement of the
affected employees to job rate, but full back pay including overtime, and an apology to
Local 1010 by GE local management.
Led by Pres. Al Estrada and Chief Steward Bill Wossum, the entire Local
1010 Executive Board was involved in this victory. Local 1010 officers are particularly
gratified that they were able to help so many new members and thereby increase the
strength and solidarity of the union. As Wossum recently noted, "Once again, the
company helped to build our membership in more ways than one."