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GE, Unions Preparing For 2003 Bargaining

22 February, 2002

With national bargaining less than 15 months away, General Electric is already preparing its themes – and it’s not too soon for union members get ready.

That was the message delivered by UE leaders to local officers and stewards at a meeting of the UE-GE Conference Board here Feb. 20.

Union Pres. John Hovis and Conference Board Sec. Steve Tormey said that in remarks to managers, GE’s new chief executive invokes a vision of a company that’s even more global and service-oriented, and leaner. According to Hovis and Tormey, Jeffrey Immelt predicts more pain as the company goes on the offensive, not satisfied with an 11 percent overall increase in earnings last year.

Tormey told local leaders to expect reduced company responsibility for healthcare as one of the company’s 2003 bargaining themes. GE workers can expect to hear the company’s themes for the 2003 negotiations "early, often and intensely," he said.

Hovis and Tormey were encouraged by the recent meeting of a Coordinated Bargaining Committee of GE Unions which proposed a substantive plan for preparations for 2003 bargaining, with a special emphasis on communications and membership mobilization.

In local reports, delegates reported fights to retain jobs in the face of layoffs in most locations.

FIGHTING FOR JOBS

Local 506 Pres. Randy Majewski said that in addition to the expected announcement of volume-related layoffs, GE is attempting to eliminate another 225 jobs through outsourcing. "We’re more than happy to give them a fight," he said. Local 506 is currently in negotiations with GE over the outsourcing. Thanks to job-security language negotiated in 2000, the local secured an expansion of the notice period from 60 days to six months for non-production jobs, observed Chief Plant Steward David Kitchen.

"They know we’re serious, we’re only going to intensify the battle," commented Bus. Agent Pat Rafferty. Donna Cramer pointed out that the 506 Legislative Action Committee has been building alliances in the community for some time, alliances that are now helping to transform this fight into a community-wide struggle to retain living-wage jobs in Erie.

Local 618, which represents non-exempt salaried workers at the Erie plant, is also affected by the layoff announcement. Local 618 Pres. Bill DeSantis, who noted that two of the five workers facing layoff are union officers, reported that his local is also in negotiations over the layoffs. Its message to the company is, "your number is five, ours is zero," DeSantis said.

The union-negotiated Special Early Retirement Option (SERO) may soften the blow of layoffs at the Fort Edward, N.Y. capacitor plant, reported Local 332 Bus. Agent Bob Brown, but will not make up for job losses. Some workers at the Conneaut, Ohio lighting plant also benefitted from SERO, said Local 731 Vice Pres. Phil Bishop; further, the local union negotiated a job preservation agreement and is looking at a nearly $200,000 investment in the plant. Local 751 encompasses two lighting division bargaining units in Niles, Ohio; one is busy, the other slow. Local Pres. Bill Callahan said the local has been fighting the company on outsourcing and to secure a future through plant expansion.

BIG BROTHER GE WATCHING

Larry Harnak of Local 707, Cleveland, which represents appliance service technicians, reported that GE has continued to withdraw from areas which formerly had factory service. Instead, GE is investing millions in computer and global positioning systems which can track the location of individual trucks to within three feet.

Tormey cautioned delegates against company attempts to exploit the current recession and concerns over job loss. "We have to work together to make the best of a bad situation," he said.

MEXICAN CONDITIONS

In reporting on their fact-finding trip to Mexico in November three Conference Board delegates contrasted the modern, expansive plants of foreign corporations with the deplorable living conditions of workers.

Mexican workers "are no happier about NAFTA than we are," said Jim Jaroski, Local 506. "It’s the multinational corporations that are the real villains," commented Don Kosobucki, Local 506. The poverty, lack of rights, and extent of U.S. capital there, concluded Rich Tarnaski, Local 751, are all "something to be scared about." International Labor Affairs Dir. Robin Alexander stressed that U.S. support of efforts to organize democratic unions in Mexico is "our best step to protect job security."

Alexander reported to the Conference Board on contact made with the Brazilian Metal Workers Union, which represents more than a million workers, some of them employed by GE. She characterized the union as "progressive and strong" and serious about cooperating with UE.

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