Growing anger and dissatisfaction with the heavy-handed policies of the General Electric Co. boiled over in recent weeks,
resulting in a series of grievance strikes across the GE chain with the possibility of more to come.
At the huge GE locomotive works in Erie on Nov. 7, hourly and non-exempt salaried workers, represented by UE Locals 506
and 618 respectively, walked out of the plant two hours early on all three shifts over expired grievances. The action was widely covered
in the local media. The basic issue concerns GE’s ongoing job-slashing tactics.
Earlier this year, membership mobilization and an active jobs preservation committee enabled Local 506 to save 167 jobs of
about 214 slated to be subcontracted. The local maintains that the company "owes" Erie the 47 jobs that were lost. GE, however,
has continued its aggressive "shrink the workforce" tactics, targeting especially so-called "indirect labor"
Local 506 conducted informational picketing during the week prior to the strike, and also delivered a number of strike
notices to the company. Under the UE-GE National Contract, locals may strike on unresolved grievances that have been cleared through all
the steps of the grievance procedure. GE’s refusal to budge from their previous positions led to the Nov. 7 strike.
Local 506 officers Randy Majewski, Pat Rafferty, and Dave Kitchen have also indicated that more grievance
strikes are a distinct possibility if GE does not heed the message of the Nov. 7 walkout. In particular, Local 506 is continuing to press
GE for the return of all previously outsourced jobs and insist on serious discussions on new work for the Erie plant. These demands have
been made all the more important by a large number of recent temporary layoffs caused by a downturn in locomotive orders.
Meanwhile, some 30 miles down the road in Conneaut, Ohio, members of UE Local 731 struck the GE lighting division plant
beginning on third shift on Thursday night, Nov. 7, and continued through the weekend until Sunday night. The immediate issue in Conneaut
concerned GE’s ongoing harassment of union officers in an attempt to hinder the union’s ability to conduct business when necessary in
GE’s lighting division has also been particularly aggressive over the years in shipping jobs to subcontractors and to GE
plants in Mexico, Hungary, and elsewhere. In the past two years, GE has eliminated nearly two dozen jobs in Conneaut. Following the
strike, Local 731 Pres. Phil Pizzi delivered additional strike notices to the company.
GE strike activity moved west on Monday, Nov. 11, when GE aircraft engine-repair workers in Ontario, Calif. struck for the
first time in several years. This action by UE Local 1010 members followed a plant-gate meeting the previous week where they strongly
approved a walkout should one prove necessary.
The immediate issue has to do with a particular engine that for many years has been maintained exclusively by the Ontario
workforce. GE now intends to equip its plant in Scotland to perform this work, and told the local they were under no obligation to provide
formal notice or to bargain about it as provided in the contract.
Having lost jobs in the past as GE diverted work to its facilities in Scotland and Brazil, as well as to other U.S.
facilities, Local 1010 members decided it was time to take action.
Not far from Ontario in Anaheim, Local 1009 workers at the GE apparatus repair plant are facing a different problem, which
concerns the ongoing discrimination by GE against senior transformer department workers. This has manifested itself in the denial to these
highly skilled workers of certain job assignments as well as new training opportunities. Local 1009 responded with a strike on Friday,
Nov. 15, which not only effectively shut down the Anaheim facility, but which was extended to Local 1009 members working on various
outside job sites.
UPSTATE NEW YORK
Strike activity moved eastward on Nov. 21, when members of Local 332 in Ft. Edward, N.Y. struck for 24 hours over
GE’s ongoing abuse of "temporary" jobs in violation of past local understandings. During 2002, more job openings have actually
been posted as temporary than permanent at this GE capacitor plant. This has led to the company evading the seniority and recall
provisions of the contract.
In addition, with the plant busy with considerable overtime, GE has indicated it may subcontract more work rather than
hire new employees, a threat which outraged Local 332 members. The local has lost over a thousand jobs to GE transfers of work over the
last two decades.
The anger of GE workers and their willingness to take action to defend themselves is a phenomenon not confined to UE
members. In late October, IUE/CWA Local 201 in Lynn, Mass., a major GE aircraft engine plant, staged a highly successful four-day strike
which garnered considerable community support. The issue is GE’s ongoing strategy of exporting jobs, which has hit the Lynn plant hard
in recent years. The latest company maneuver, to export another 57 jobs to Romania, provoked the strike.
The IUE-GE Conference Board has also joined UE in rejecting GE’s mid-contract increases in medical insurance co-pays to
the managed-care Health Care Preferred (HCP) Plan, and have authorized strike action after the first of the year. The increases, scheduled
to take effect on Jan. 1, 2003, represent a $30 million transfer of insurance costs from GE to its active workers and pre-65 retirees. The
UE-GE Conference Board will be discussing the details of possible strike action at its meeting scheduled for December 13. A strike over
the HCP increases would be the first national GE job action since 1969.
(This story updates an article posted earlier in UE News Update)