GE Assaults Health Care; Offers
Some Pension Improvements
NEW YORK – Tuesday, June 12
"Small table" negotiations got underway in earnest today with GE launching a morning cost-shifting assault on our medical insurance that was perhaps the most massive and thoroughgoing in recent and not so recent memory. GE plans to spare no one – actives, pre-65 retirees, and post-65 retirees – from their intended onslaught.
The Company led off by proposing two rounds of huge increases in medical contributions from pay over the course of the next Contract, in combination with a variety of steep co-pay increases. These included jacking up prescription and in-hospital costs, among others. To add insult to injury, GE proposed to establish a brand new co-pay for radiology (scans) on the same types of medical equipment, such as MRI’s, that they make a fortune manufacturing in their Healthcare division. The irony was not lost on CBC bargainers.
We wish we could say it ended there, but GE had still more. Pre-65 retirees are in the Company’s gun sites for major contribution increases. And despite the fact that GE received a $75 million windfall last year (with hundreds of millions more to come in years ahead) from the federal government pursuant to the Medicare Part D legislation, not even post-65 retirees escaped the Company’s ax. GE proposed to increase co-pays to both past and future retirees enrolled in the Pensioners Prescription Drug Plan (PPDP.) On the other hand, GE offered only a minuscule increase in the Medicare Plan for Pensioners (MCPP) which supplements Medicare Part A hospital coverage.
There were a few additional regressive proposals, but you get the picture. Naturally union bargainers voiced strong objection to GE’s giant proposed cost dump, while simultaneously trying to discern even a few rays of light through the noxious cloud GE had produced. It took a considerable amount of eco-imagination on the union’s part, because such rays were few and far between. The Company did offer a couple of dental plan improvements, preventive care improvements for employees in CMB, and an increase in the lifetime medical maximum amount. In addition there was a propose/v d improvement in substance abuse and mental health coverage, a welcome and badly needed development, considering GE’s mind boggling list of cost shifting items.
With nowhere to go but up, the afternoon session provided a welcome contrast to the morning’s horror show. In the course of a brief 30-minute session, GE made some positive pension proposals. These included an increase in the guaranteed minimum tables which, while not sufficient, was a step in the right direction. Other proposals included an increase in the annual earnings threshold before the mandatory 3 percent pension contribution is imposed, as well as a career earnings update. On the other hand, GE had nothing to say about a retirees increase, or lowering of the early retirement age. Nor was their paltry offer on supplements anything to get excited about. Nevertheless, the Company’s opening pension gambit provided a welcome contrast to the events of the morning.
Tomorrow – Wednesday – promises to be another interesting day. Among GE’s "roll outs" will be a proposal on benefits (or more likely the lack of benefits) for new hires. Be sure and check in with us.
UE was represented at the small table by Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey and General President John Hovis.
"LARGE TABLES" CONVENE
Getting underway Tuesday were the two "large table" subcommittees, comprised of union negotiators from CBC affiliated unions. One subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 Business Agent Pat Rafferty, dealt primarily with pension and insurance issues. The second subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 President Frank Fusco, handled contract language and job security issues among others. UE national negotiating committee members were present at both tables, along with dozens of representatives of the various unions that comprise the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC.)
Pension and Insurance Subcommittee Report
The Pension and Insurance Subcommittee opened up Tuesday morning and met through the day. The bulk of the daylong proceedings involved a review of union contract demands covering the vast territory of pension, health care, and related topics. Subcommittee Co-Chair Pat Rafferty informed company negotiators that "We have made it abundantly clear what is not going to be acceptable in this contract on pensions and insurance. We are interested in advancing."
During the afternoon session Rafferty scored the company for inadequately exercising its influence over its health care and prescription providers, who often throw needless and costly roadblocks in the way of employees trying to access their benefits. "GE pays people to do your bidding for you. They are agents for you. They are not a ‘third party’ as you claim. They do what you tell them. So many arbitrary decisions are made by these agents of GE," said Rafferty.
UE was represented at the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee by Co-Chair Pat Rafferty, Local 506, Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple, Ed Baran, Local 751, Marcia Barnhart, Local 731, Lynda Leech, Local 618, and Bruce Reese, Local 332.
Contract Language Subcommittee Report
The Contract Language Subcommittee opened up simultaneously on Tuesday morning, and likewise met through the day. The extensive list of union contract demands pertaining to job and income security, hours and overtime, schedules and shifts, seniority, vacations, health and safety, and other topics were reviewed with the company.
Subcommittee Co-Chair Frank Fusco took the company to task for its inadequate performance to date regarding its contractual obligations on preferential hiring. "The answers we get from you are not acceptable." said Fusco, as it became obvious from the discussion that GE does a poor job of informing local unions of hiring opportunities at GE locations. Bill Wossum, Local 1010, echoed this criticism in the wake of the recent experiences of his location with the preferential hiring process. "It took weeks for GE to put something together for us. You weren’t ready, and it was shoddy." said Wossum. Additional union negotiators added their first-hand experiences with GE’s sloppiness and indifference when soon to be laid-off workers were trying to assess their options under the preferential hiring section of the union contract.
On the subject of night shift bonus inequity for new hires, Co-Chair Fusco told the company that, "We need to fix this at 10 percent for everyone." On the topic of vacations, John Payne, Local 731, pointed out that "By making us take vacations for shutdown, we don’t have vacation, we have shutdown." Chris Townsend, political action director, reminded the company about the need for improvements to the vacation schedule. "There hasn’t been an improvement to the vacation schedule since 1983 and it is long overdue. Long overdue" said Townsend.
UE was represented at the Contract Language Subcommittee by Co-Chair Frank Fusco, Local 506, Scott Gates, Local 332, John Payne, Local 731, Bill Wossum, Local 1010, and Chris Townsend, political action director.