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UE-GE 2007 Contract Information: Negotiations Summary - Tuesday, June 13th (#12)

Summary #12

GE New Hire Horror Show

NEW YORK – Wednesday, June 13

After Tuesday’s session we reported that there was no way to go but up, after GE’s massive grab bag of medical insurance cost-shifting proposals. We were wrong – Wednesday things hit a new low. Wednesday morning GE proposed to apply to all new hires the same giant list of takeaways they imposed on exempt salaried new hires effective in 2005. Not a period, comma, or semicolon was changed from their 2005 horror show, despite the intense discussion it provoked at the UE table two weeks ago.

For those of you who have been living on another planet, this witches’ brew of takeaways includes: an end to retirement at age 60 with unreduced pension; the total elimination of all early retirement supplements; the end of any company-paid medical insurance for pre or post-65 retirees; an end to a variety of job loss benefits such as SERO and the Plant Closing Pension Option (PCPO); a 70 percent cut in retirees’ life insurance, and big cuts in disability pensions.

It fell to GE’s chief negotiator William Casey to deliver this foul-smelling package to an unreceptive union committee. Casey had stated two days ago that GE would not be ashamed of any of the proposals it would make, but "shameful" is the adjective that best describes this one. Mr. Casey tried to make the best of the bad errand he had been sent on, but one union negotiator after another expressed strong opposition to GE’s attack.

When Mr. Casey stated that the takeaways did not apply to present employees, John Hovis’ cryptic reply was, "For now." Hovis also told GE they were wrong if they thought that present employees would not protect new hires in the same way that day shift workers had helped repel a GE attack on the 10 percent night bonus back in the 1990’s.

While Mr. Casey attempted to compare fabulously wealthy GE to bankrupt companies which have "littered the landscape" (supposedly because they had not slashed their so-called legacy costs), his argument fell on deaf ears. In fact, the only real litter in the room was the paper on which GE’s new hire proposals was printed. Nevertheless, GE’s proposal is now "on the table" and at this point the company shows no signs of consigning it to the oblivion it deserves. That will require not only a strong push-back from union negotiators in New York, but also from GE union members across the country.

LITTLE WHEAT, LOTS OF CHAFF

The afternoon session fortunately lacked the toxic atmosphere present during the morning. There was, however, very little of any consequence "rolled out" by GE. For the most part, the company proposed adjustments to some of their minor benefits programs, as well as a few housekeeping items. GE did offer an increase in the weekly STD benefit as well as an increase in the scheduled amounts under the Individual Development Plan (IDP). Beyond that, there was very little wheat to be found among all the chaff.

GE offered some changes to its dizzying array of life insurance programs. These included the merging of the A Plus and Security Life plans with the promise of lower rates and certain other advantages. They also offered expansion of their accidental death and dismemberment coverage.

On a lighter note, GE wants to cap the maximum amount collectible for a basic life insurance claim at $12 million. To get that much, one would have to be earning $5 million per year! This was supposedly aimed at big stars over at NBC, but be sure to check your latest pay stub to figure out if your beneficiaries would be hurt by this cap.

TIME OFF; DOUBLE TIME

The union bargainers did have hopes when GE was about to present its proposal on "paid time off." But it turned out that there were no additional holidays, sick days, or vacation days to be found. Instead, GE opened its checkbook wide and proposed that employees with less than 30 days of service would be eligible for death-in-family benefits. The union committee had barely recovered from their shock at this act of GE generosity, when the company offered further to pay death-in-family benefits in the event of the death of the covered relative of same-sex domestic partners. This, then, was the sum total of what the planet’s most successful corporation offered on the subject of paid time off.

Lest anyone worry that GE be parting with too much cash here to remain viable, the company also offered us a takeaway on overtime that would deny first shift workers double time for early call-ins. The union had earlier proposed to pay second and third shift workers double time in such cases to bring them into uniformity with day shift and to help put an end to the games GE managers play to try and avoid double time payment. GE of course has other ideas, and wants no one to get double time.

Tomorrow GE will complete its proposed new contract rollout. The subject of wages and job and income security are on the agenda, but if the last two days are any indication, expect no jobs, no security, and precious little on wages. The good news is that around the country, CBC-affiliated union members are using their collective "imaginations at work" to keep the pressure on GE to deliver the kind of contract we need and deserve. Our answer to GE’s most disappointing rollout is to continue to "roll the union on."

Keep checking in, we’ll keep you posted. UE was represented at the small table by Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey and General President John Hovis.

LARGE TABLES CONTINUE WORK

The two "large table" subcommittees, comprised of union negotiators from CBC-affiliated unions, continued their work on Wednesday. The Pension and Insurance Subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 Business Agent Pat Rafferty, and the Contract Language Subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 President Frank Fusco, hammered away on their respective topics. 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

The Pension and Insurance Subcommittee met through the day Wednesday. Union negotiators started the session blasting the company on pension issues, including the need for improved pensions, an increase for retirees, and SEROs, among others. "The company should take a look at the lower tier of the pension tables again." said Ed Baran, Local 751. Joining the fray was Marcia Barnhart, Local 731, who added, "The GE pension is over funded... that is our money... we want improved pensions for all." Lynda Leech, Local 618, asked the company, "Where is your loyalty to the retirees? ...this is outrageous ...you just let the retirees live hand to mouth." Bruce Reese, Local 332, observed that, "People gave the best years of their lives to GE, and the way inflation is going the tables need to be improved." UE political action director Chris Townsend took the company to task for lecturing the membership on why Social Security needs to be a key part of retirement replacement income, while the company does nothing through its considerable lobbying activities in Washington, D.C. that would strengthen or defend this program from its enemies.

In the afternoon session Co-Chair Pat Rafferty, Local 506, pushed back against company proposals to shift massive additional health costs onto the backs of employees. Pat also exploded the company’s "conflict of interest" in their desire to charge a new and significant co-pay for MRI and other scans, while also profiting handsomely from the manufacture and sale of the MRI machines themselves.

UE was represented at the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee by Pat Rafferty, Local 506; General Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple; Ed Baran, Local 751; Marcia Barnhart, Local 731; Lynda Leech, Local 618; Bruce Reese, Local 332; and Chris Townsend, political action director.

CONTRACT LANGUAGE SUBCOMMITTEE

The Contract Language Subcommittee also met all day, reviewing an extensive and detailed list of contract demands on topics ranging from preferential placement, restoration of service language, bereavement pay, sick and personal time, holidays, military differential pay, and apparatus shop issues. Co-Chair Frank Fusco of Local 506 blasted the company for its growing list of concession demands. "GE made $66,352 profit from each and every worker last year, but here you sit wanting take-backs... This is unacceptable... We did not come here to go backwards," said Fusco. John Payne, Local 731, labeled GE’s proposals as "terrible, just terrible."

During the drawn-out afternoon session, CBC bargainers blasted the company proposal to eliminate double time call-in pay for day shift workers when they are called in after the end of their regular shift and before the start of their next shift, instead paying no more than time-and-a-half. Subcommittee members from UE and other CBC unions forcefully reminded GE that this takeaway demand has been seen in previous years’ negotiations, and then withdrawn by the company in the face of audible and legitimate protests from its intended victims.

UE was represented at the Contract Language Subcommittee by Frank Fusco, Local 506; Scott Gates, Local 332; John Payne, Local 731; Bill Wossum, Local 1010, and Chris Townsend, political action director.