At the Small Table
NEW YORK – Thursday, June 14
Thursday morning bargaining resumed at the small table, a term that gained new meaning in light of GE’s proposal for four years of miniature wage increases. Needless to say, union negotiators were not overwhelmed by the bite-sized raises GE put on the table. In defending its proposal, the company projected a rather optimistic forecast of low inflation over the contract term, and declared it would result in "real wage growth." While this statement is by itself highly dubious, it also ignores the company’s massive and malodorous healthcare cost-shifting proposals that have been simmering since their unwelcome appearance two days earlier.
When these are figured in, and even if GE’s rosy low-inflation forecast comes true, GE workers will be "another day older and deeper in debt" – unless a lot changes at the bargaining table over the next three days. GE did make a proposal to improve our present COLA formula. While this is a step in the right direction, GE’s offer would still result in employees recovering only about 45 cents for every dollar of inflation. Even that inadequate sum would diminish over the course of the new contract.
In addition, the company had nothing to say about the subterranean 60-cent night bonus applied to low-service workers, nor about the extended progression schedule newly hired workers are forced to endure. But these days GE seems to be interested in rewarding people less for what they do, than for when they were hired to do it.
After being less than impressed with GE’s wage offer, union bargainers were equally unenthused by GE’s job and income security rollout. GE did offer to renew SERO, SERO 30, and the Plant Closing Pension Option (PCPO), as these items have "sunset" provisions. In addition, the company offered a couple of useful improvements to preferential placement, as well as a modest increase in the educational and retraining allowance in plant closing situations. There never seems to be a shortage of those in GE’s domain.
NO SERO WINDOW
But beyond this, there was, as usual, no attempt to address job security in any fundamental way. As the air in the room hung increasingly heavy, union bargainers hoped at least for a cool breeze to ease their discomfort and ventilate the atmosphere. Unfortunately, no "window" of any kind, SERO or otherwise, was to be found. GE has previously opined that the SERO window has "outlived its usefulness." But they well know that their workers around the country are clamoring for a taste of life after GE, and are prepared to pry that window open, whatever it takes. Union bargainers reminded GE that this glaring omission from their "rollout" must be corrected.
In the afternoon, CBC union bargainers offered a counterproposal on pensions to the company. This has been the one and only area of consequence so far where GE has made some decent proposals. But even here, GE falls well short of the mark. The union counter included a further boost to the guaranteed pension tables, higher supplements, some relief for disabled workers, and most importantly, a long-overdue raise for our retirees. GE has studiously ignored this area in recent years, while retirees are increasingly strapped in paying for such luxury items as food, fuel, rent and medicine.
So with only three days to go, a maze of obstacles stand in the way of a settlement, including the three most difficult ones: new hires, medical costs, and the SERO window. These and a myriad of other issues are a long way from resolution, as we head into the closing act of this particular drama. Stay in touch through to the final curtain.
UE was represented at the small table by Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey and General President John Hovis.
‘LARGE TABLE’ REPORTS
The two "large table" subcommittees, comprised of union negotiators from CBC-affiliated unions, continued to do battle with the company on Thursday. UE negotiating committee members, including leaders from six UE-GE locals, served on the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 Business Agent Pat Rafferty; and Contract Language Subcommittee, co-chaired by UE International Representative Chris Townsend. On each subcommittee they worked with dozens of representatives from the other unions that comprise the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC).
PENSION AND INSURANCE SUBCOMMITTEE
During the morning session Co-Chair Pat Rafferty, Local 506, reminded the company that "inflation eats up" the value of pensioner’s monthly checks, necessitating an increase and a COLA. The need to improve retiree pensions was also hammered home by Lynda Leech, Local 618, and Bruce Reese, Local 332. Union negotiators finished the morning session by again denouncing company proposals to strip new hires of post-retirement healthcare and early retirement benefits. During the afternoon session Co-Chair Pat Rafferty scored the Company on LTDI issues. Rafferty advocated making the plan more attractive to new hires by reducing the cost of the plan, by merging both the hourly and salaried plans and by other means. The afternoon session also included review of Union demands on a variety of health care proposals, including post-65 medical care costs, the claims process, co-pays, and STD issues. UE’s representatives at the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee were Co-Chair Pat Rafferty, Local 506; UE Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple; Ed Baran, Local 751; Marcia Barnhart, Local 731; Lynda Leech, Local 618; and Bruce Reese, Local 332.
CONTRACT LANGUAGE SUBCOMMITTEE
The Contract Language Subcommittee received numerous proposals from the small table, which union negotiators reviewed. During the morning session of the meeting the unions blasted the company for its attempt to sock new hires with massive takebacks. "I would be ashamed to offer this new hire proposal," said John Payne, Local 731, who told the company that in order to be fair to new hires they would merely have to "dip into" the massive GE pension fund. Co-Chair Chris Townsend exposed company financial manipulations which allow GE to count pension fund earnings as profits on the overall GE balance sheet. "You use the pension fund earnings to make your balance sheet look better. It’s wrong and you should stop it. Those funds are supposed to be for the exclusive benefit of plan participants," said Townsend. He went on to explain how GE refuses to grant pension increases to retirees regardless of how overfunded the plan becomes. In the afternoon session, union negotiators sparred with the company over several new proposals, despite GE’s failure so far to offer significant counter proposals to a long list of existing union proposals.
UE was represented at the Contract Language Subcommittee by Co-Chair Chris Townsend, International Representative; Scott Gates, Local 332; John Payne, Local 731; and Bill Wossum, Local 1010.