UE - General Electric:
Contract 2000 Ratified
Negotiations that went beyond contract expiration for the
first time in recent history in the end produced an acceptable national
agreement with General Electric, approved by a substantial majority of UE’s
GE membership as locals voted from coast to coast.
In Ontario, Calif., like other locations, GE workers take
pride in their work — and insisted on a contract they could be proud of,
At the June 3 rally in Erie, Pa., attended by some 2,500.
Union pride: this Erie GE worker had ‘Local 506’
painted on his back, to match!
Pat Campbell, Carol Miller and Pat Wojtowicz of Local 731,
Conneaut, Ohio GE at the Erie, Pa. rally.
Each time negotiations get more difficult," said
Patrick Rafferty, the business agent of UE Local 506, describing what it’s
like to bargain with the world’s most powerful corporation. That assessment
seemed particularly true in 2000.
Despite its publicized intention to negotiate a "fair and
generous" contract, GE came to the table with goals that included major
cost-shifting in medical insurance and a contract term of five or more years.
Through rallies and shop-floor activities, UE members loudly
and clearly backed their negotiating committee through four weeks of often
UE is one of two unions with a national agreement with GE and
participates in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee, a coalition of 14 unions
representing some 32,000 GE workers nationwide.
Negotiations opened May 30 in New York, beginning three weeks
of talks between the UE committee and the company. During the fourth week,
Genl. Pres. John Hovis and Stephen Tormey, secretary of the
UE-GE Conference Board, joined representatives of four other unions (IUE, IBEW,
IAM and UAW) in "small-table" bargaining with top GE officials.
Meanwhile, UE rank-and-file leaders joined other CBC members facing the
company on subcommittees dealing with insurance and pensions and contract
SEEKING A ‘BALANCED’ CONTRACT
From the beginning, UE pressed for what Pres. Hovis called in
his opening statement "a well-balanced agreement" addressing a range
of worker concerns, including substantial improvements in wages, medical
insurance, pensions and job and income security.
Hovis laid out the themes that the UE committee would return
to repeatedly over the next month:
GE can easily afford contract improvements; GE workers should
be rewarded for their impressive productivity gains; the $25 billion
overfunding in the pension trust is used to make GE’s bottom line more
attractive to Wall Street investors when it should be used to pay for major
pension improvements; GE has no serious competition; rampant job insecurity
requires a number of contract changes; as GE’s aggregate medical costs have
gone down by 20 percent since 1992 (and not increased), the company’s
cost-shifting should be halted and reversed.
The company’s opening statement stressed GE’s goals of
"flexibility" and "competitive ability" in a contract of
five or more years.
Both the union and company bolstered their arguments with
formal presentations, projecting facts and figures on screens.
BASED ON WORKERS’ NEEDS
As Pat Rafferty reminded GE, the union’s proposals came out
of the real-life experiences of GE workers over the past three years. Those
experiences were given force by the clearly reasoned, forcible arguments of
"We are proud to be GE employees, we want a contract we
can be proud of," said Lynda Leech, Local 618, Erie, Pa. salaried
"I’m here to let you know that my local opposes any
more cost shifting on the medical insurance, we want the medical
improved," declared Pat Campbell, Local 731, Conneaut, Ohio. Joyce
Sumner, Local 332, representing Fort Edward, N.Y. workers, wholeheartedly
agreed: "The message from my members is that insurance should not be any
more expensive than it is already."
GE repeatedly told the union that future contract improvements
can’t be based on the record-breaking profits of the past three years. Or,
as David Adams, Local 506 president put it, the company wants to know
what we will do for GE tomorrow, after three years of tomorrows. Record levels
of production should give GE workers a better contract, he said.
The UE committee hammered at the company demand for a longer
contract term. "I would be hard-pressed to go back to my location and say
we have an extended contract," said Bill Callahan, Local 751,
Niles/Mahoning. "I expect three years is long enough to make adjustments
and make sure we meet the needs of our members."
The UE local leaders also hit on the need for job and income
security improvements, early retirement and more paid time off because of the
pressure-cooker conditions of "management by stress." "We live
in a turbo-charged environment of purposeful insecurity," said Stephen
Was the company listening? When the CBC small committee met
with company officials on June 19 — less than a week from contract
expiration — GE still insisted on a five-year (or longer) contract and more
insurance cost-shifting. GE told the unions that the $25 billion in pension
overfunding was irrelevant to the level of pension benefits and that the
present wage and benefit package already allowed the company to "attract
and retain" quality employees. And GE made clear its unwillingness to
accept limits on its ability to move or eliminate jobs.
This was, as the bulletin posted on the UE Website explained,
GE’s usual tactic of driving down expectations.
The bulletins over the course of the final week of talks
reported a slow pace of progress and major differences remaining even as time
was running out. Over the final weekend, the unions and company began to close
the gap, but failed to reach a settlement by the midnight deadline — or by 2
a.m. Monday, June 26, when the talks recessed. The unions did not get GE’s
final position until around 12 noon.
Meanwhile, the UE membership had been busy in support of its
The CBC sponsored a series of rallies during negotiations; by
far the biggest and best organized was the rally hosted by UE Locals 506 and
618 in Erie, Pa. on June 3. With the top three officers of Local 506 occupied
with negotiations, an extensive committee of rank-and-file volunteers, with
assistance from the Retirees Association of General Electric (RAGE), organized
the entire event.
Some 2,500 attended the rally, coming from a number of unions
and GE locations, although most of the participants were Erie GE workers and
members of their families.
Some of those same Local 506 members wore band-aids on their
noses on June 21 in response to the foul odor of GE’s proposal for a
medical-insurance "reverse COLA" and took part in "band
practice" and other activities, including informational picketing, during
the final week.
Local 1010 members in Ontario, Calif. rallied outside the
plant on June 16 and — just in case the company didn’t get the message —
again on June 23.
Each and every member of Local 751 at the Niles and Mahoning
Glass plants in Niles, Ohio signed a petition backing the union’s positions,
copies of which were delivered to GE officials at negotiations in New York. At
the Conneaut, Ohio lighting plant, meanwhile, Local 731 members were filling
out rosters for picket duty. Local 332 members in Ft. Edward, N.Y. — already
warmed up by a four-day strike in May — wore snake-adorned T-shirts bearing
the slogan, "If provoked, I will strike."
"Speaking for my local, I’m extremely proud of the
support they gave me and the union bargaining committee up here,"
commented Bill Callahan, Local 751. "The leaflets and the things they did
back home made a tremendous difference. They were extremely supportive, and
willing to take the company on."
UE members did an outstanding job of getting their message
across in the shops — and "that’s where the agreement comes
from," said Pres. Hovis.
The UE negotiating committee gave its approval to tentative
agreement on June 27; the UE-GE Conference Board voted unanimously the next
day to recommend ratification by UE locals.
Enthusiasm for the agreement varied. "It’s mediocre,
but not enough to strike on," commented Nita Gonzales of Local
1010. Chris Barrickman, Local 731, thought it was "a very good
contract. It seems like everyone’s getting something out of it, at
least," he said. Betsy Potter, Local 618, pointed out that
"the company wanted a lot more [insurance] cost-shifting."
"Overall, it’s good, but there are things that could have been
better," suggested Bill Callahan.
David Kitchen, Local 506, thought that the language on the
Job Preservation Steering Committees was "significantly better."
TOUGH PROCESS, TOUGH UNION
"It’s been tough, I knew it was going to be
tough," added Bob Brown, Local 332. "We did the best we
could." Brown praised the UE committee as "a great crew to work
Barrickman, who was attending his first national negotiations,
was particularly grateful for the support from the veterans. "They guided
me through the whole process."
Another first-timer, Joyce Sumner of Local 332, admitted to
being nervous at first until she realized that the GE officials sitting across
the table in national negotiations were no different than the GE bosses she
dealt with back in the plant. "GE is tough, but UE is stronger,"
Part of that strength came from communication. Daily summaries
were posted on the UE Website throughout much of the negotiations, and were
printed and mailed to each local during the first three weeks. "The Web
was great, our folks in California knew what was going on here in New
York," said Nita Gonzales. Although she and Ted Bradley would call
every day with a report, Local 1010 members had already downloaded the UE
negotiations bulletin and knew what had taken place at the table. "The
Web made all the difference in the world," said Betsy Potter. Bargainers
from other CBC unions made use of it, too, she said.
Pat Rafferty, Local 506, agreed that the contract could easily
have been worse, and said it would have been were it not for the tireless
efforts of Pres. Hovis and Tormey at the small table during the final week.
"If anyone is to be commended, it is you and your membership," Hovis
told the UE bargaining committee. The union would have been "stuck in the
sand," he said, without the high caliber of rank-and-file leadership from
WAGE, COLA IMPROVEMENTS
Under the terms of the 2000-2003 agreement, wages will be
increased by 4 percent the first year, 3 percent the second year and 2.5
percent the third year. The cost-of-living adjustment continues, uncapped,
with an improved formula of one cent for each .10 percent rise in
CPI-W, with six adjustments covering a 32-month period. The new COLA
represents about a 10% improvement over the preceding formula in inflation
The contract contains a wage structure adjustment: Effective
June 26, 2000, one cent per hour (40 cents per week for salaried) will be
added to all rates at or above $18.63 per hour, or R-18 if lower, with an
additional one cent for each 15-cent wage bracket with no maximum.
The Guaranteed Minimum Tables are increased to a range of $28
to $40 and are also improved to provide for pension multiplier increase for
employees in the middle of the tables. Effective next year, the Regular Career
Formula is improved by accruing service beyond 34 years on the same basis as
other service (previously was a flat 1.45 percent). Also, the "break
point" between 1.45 and 1.9 percent accumulation rates is frozen
beginning next year at $30,000, instead of floating upward with the rise in
The Career Pension Update will enrich pensions of those
retiring under the career earnings formula. It applies to employees with 25 or
more years or those who were at least 55 with 20 years as of Dec. 31, 1999.
The update has a guaranteed $250 minimum improvement; it’s effective Dec. 1,
2000 for pensions beginning on July 1, 2000 or later. The update alone will
yield, on average, an increase of about $2,4000 in the annual pensions of
eligible UE members.
The Regular Supplement is increased from $13 to $14 for
employees retiring between ages 60 to 62. The Special Supplement is increased
from $325 to $350 for those retiring within 3 months of attaining age 60 with
25 or more years of PQS.
A new feature, a Supplement Extender will result in the
regular and special supplements running beyond age 62 until the age at which
one qualifies for 80 percent of Social Security. Describing this as "a
very significant provision," Pres. Hovis pointed out that this will allow
some GE workers to retire a year, possibly two years, earlier than they
Survivor Options are improved with the addition of an
immediate 100 percent option. The two-year wait for the 100 percent survivor
benefit is eliminated. Reduction factors are lowered for SERO and PCPO
The Disability Pension will be reduced by a range of 2
to 10 percent for employees ages 55-59, a significant improvement over the
previous flat 12 percent reduction. This was the first change in this area in
An Early Pension Payout Option will be available to employees
with at least 25 years of PQS who terminate service after a job loss event
including layoff. Employees so affected going back to June 1988 are eligible
to begin receiving a pension as early as age 55. The pension benefit will be
reduced 5 percent per year from age 60 to 55.
UE argued long and hard for elimination of the employee
pension contribution. The contribution continues, but workers will be parting
with less of their take-home pay. The threshold at which the 3 percent pension
contribution kicks in will be raised next year from $30,000 to $37,500 of
annual earnings — resulting in savings of $225 per year in after-tax money.
The new contract renews the Special Early Retirement Option (SERO)
for employees ages 55-59 with 25 years of PQS affected by a "job loss
event." SERO 30 also renewed. The SERO "Window" is
reopened and the replacement pool is broadened to include upgrades and
qualified new hires. However, eligibility will be limited to the 850
applicants nationally who have the most Pension Benefit Service (PBS). This
will apply to hourly and non-exempt employees. Applicants must retire on Oct.
1 or Nov. 1, 2000, and must apply by Sept. 1, 2000.
JOB AND INCOME SECURITY
The Plant Closing Pension Option (PCPO) is renewed. PCPO
retirees with 25 years or more PQS will now receive dental plan coverage until
The Rate Guarantee of 78 weeks is extended to employees
displaced or laid off within six months of subcontracting work that had no
initial adverse impact on employees performing such work. The Special
Retirement and Voluntary Layoff Bonuses are increased by $2,500 to $12,500 for
employees age 60 with 15 or more years PQS. The Education and Retraining Bonus
in event of plant closing is doubled to $10,000.
Job Preservation Steering Committees are extended to units of
50 or more employees, with number of meetings increased to at least four per
year, and their right to information and mandate are broadened. The extensive
changes to this contract language, said Pres. Hovis, include opportunities for
the union to preempt potential job loss, instead of only reacting to company
announcements. There are provisions for business-level discussions and
national UE and corporate oversight. An up-to-two-year moratorium against job
loss applies to all work preserved through JPSC proposals.
The number of preferential placement locations
increased from three to five. Hiring standards are to be liberalized with
90-day trial period for employees with 25 or more years. Relocation Assistance
under preferential placement increased to $2,500 for single employees and
$5,000 for those with dependents, up from $2,000 and $4,000. The Income
Extension Agreement repayment obligation applicable to those hired under
Preferential Placement is eliminated.
The plant closing notice is doubled from six months to one
year. A six-month notice of transfer of work is extended to non-production
jobs where 50 or more employees are affected by a proposed transfer. The
subcontracting notice is extended to jobs subcontracted which result in no
decrease of employment.
In the medical insurance area, GE openly stated that
significant cost shifting to employees was a major bargaining objective. GE’s
attack centered around a "reverse COLA" concept — employee
contributions would automatically rise every year based on any increases in GE’s
"family unit" insurance costs. In addition, GE also proposed
significant hits on retirees’ prescription drug coverage.
While the union prevented these and other cost-shifting
changes sought by the company, contributions for both the managed-care plan,
Health Care Preferred (HCP), and the traditional Comprehensive Medical
Benefits (CMB) plan will increase by $50 per year for individual coverage and
$50 for dependent coverage. These contributions are "locked in" for
contract term. In addition, GE succeeded in increasing mail-order prescription
co-pays for active employees from $12 to $20.
However, the negotiations did produce a number of insurance
The weekly Sickness and Accident benefit is increased by $75
to $475. Long-Term Disability Insurance minimums are increased by $50 for all
three benefit options. Lifetime maximum heallth-care benefits are increased
from $1.5 million to $2 million.
Preventive care schedules under CMB are increased, and
coverages for cervical cancer screenings, prostate exams and colonoscopies are
added for both CMB and HCP. Also, coverage is added for prescription birth
control products and doctor-provided contraceptive services, as is coverage
for adult immunizations and annual cholesterol screening under CMB.
Well baby care is added to CMB, extending coverage for
pediatric examinations at birth, up to 11 doctor visits and immunizations up
to 6 years old. Co-pays for well baby care and immunizations are eliminated
The hearing aids benefit increased to $1,500 every 3
years for two hearing aids, exams, and repairs, with no co-pays.
Mental health/substance abuse coverage will include coverage
for out-of-network providers at appropriate benefit level with no deductible.
New coverage will be available at 50 percent of "usual, customary and
reasonable" for work performed by practitioners with Masters of Social
Work (MSW) degrees.
Coverage for diabetic supplies is added under both the retail
and mail prescription options. Vision benefit schedules are increased with new
coverage for bifocal contacts. Vision care for children up to age 19 will be
based on an annual schedule of benefits instead of every 2 years.
The dental schedule is increased, effective Jan.1, 2002. The
orthodontia lifetime maximum is increased by $500 to $2,000; the restorative
and prosthodontic maximums are raised by $300 to $2,000 every 2 years. A new
High Option Dental Plan will be offered for contribution of about $6.00
a month for employee and $6.00 a month for dependents. Employees may switch
into or out of the plan annually.
Other changes include an increase in the lifetime maximum is
increased in pensioners’ medical plans (MCPP and PHIP), coverage for
extended care facilities without the need of a prior hospital stay, and new
coverage for participation in federally supported clinical trials.
Also, the bereavement benefit is expanded to cover parents and
step-parents for five days and to include step-grandparent and step-grandchild
in the list of covered relatives for three days. The scholarship program
benefit to children of deceased employees is increased to $12,000 maximum and
the adoption assistance benefit is doubled to $4,000.
The Individual Development Plan (IDP) maximum is increased to
$4,000 per year, with maximum for non-job related courses raised to $1,500.
The apparatus service shop safety shoe allowance is
increased to $125 a year and may be applied to other approved personal
New to the UE-GE national agreement is the union’s right to
participate in new-hire orientation to explain benefits of union membership
and the right to register voters on company property.
Over the four weeks, the UE negotiating committee consisted of
Genl. Pres. John Hovis, Stephen Tormey, secretary of the UE-GE Conference
Board, Bob Brown and Joyce Sumner of Local 332, David Adams, David Kitchen and
Patrick Rafferty of Local 506, Betsy Potter and Lynda Leech of Local 618,
Chris Barrickman, Pat Campbell and Pat Wojtowicz of Local 731, William
Callahan of Local 751, and Ted Bradley and Nita Gonzales of Local 1010. Intl.
Rep. Chris Townsend represented UE at the IUE table and participated in
the "large table" subcommittees during the final week. Research Dir.
Lisa Frank’s assistance to the committee included a presentation on
GE finances. Rick Peduzzi developed and maintained the UE-GE bargaining
website; UE NEWS Managing Editor Peter Gilmore prepared daily
and weekly bulletins during the first three weeks of negotiations.
UE News - 07/00