Members’ Mobilization Helps,
But Still Far From Settlement
NEW YORK – Friday, June 15
Negotiations heated up Friday in New York City, with but two days left to go before the expiration of the UE-GE National Contract and those of other CBC unions. But the real action was where it should be and must be, in GE plants around the country.
In Niles, Ohio, UE Local 751 members, fresh from their 48-hour grievance strike of last week, set up a tent across the street from the plant – just in case. Meanwhile local officers discussed with local management the mechanics of shutting down the glassmaking facility come Sunday night.
In Conneaut, Ohio, Local731 completed picket rosters and distributed their latest union T-shirt with the slogan "Forward Together, Backward Never."
In Ft. Edward, New York, Local 332 members continue to devour union negotiations reports, while buttons, T-shirts and assorted union paraphernalia are much in evidence.
And in Erie,Pennsylvania, Locals 506 and 618 are in motion, with daily, and sometimes hourly displays of unity. The Local 506 symphony literally has been belting out the song of solidarity in the many buildings of the huge Erie complex in what is known locally as"band practice," and creating quite a din in the process.
Meanwhile, in the more mundane world of the bargaining table in midtown Manhattan, negotiations actually showed some faint signs of life. It takes the power of many to have any hope of moving GE, but the clamor for justice emanating from GE workers across the country just may be ringing in GE’s ears, because the company actually produced some useful proposals on Friday.
Perhaps the day’s biggest surprise was a decent company proposal on paid time off, a topic GE generally treats as if it were radioactive. There was, as well, some progress on both the progression schedule and night bonus applicable to low service workers.
GE also upped its wage offer, though by a puny amount, and put forward a reasonable wage structure adjustment for high skill workers. There was also a small move in the right direction on the pension supplement. And finally, for the first time since bargaining started, there actually was a hint of a possible SERO window – although it remained to be seen if anyone would actually be able to squeeze through it.
STILL HUGE DIFFERENCES
Though Friday produced more movement from GE than the preceding days, it would be a mistake to presume that anything less than a yawning crevasse separates union and company. Looming like a pair of grim reapers over the talks are the issues of new hires and medical insurance cost-shifting, with wages, pensions, and job and income security prominent among the many other issues still far from resolution – as well as the SERO window. Nor has GE shown the slightest inclination to provide a pension increase to its hard-pressed retirees.
Union bargainers were nevertheless encouraged, not because of great progress at the table, but because of the great support from the rank and file GE workers across the country. Keep it coming!
UE was represented at the small table by Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey and General President John Hovis.
‘LARGE TABLES’ WRAP UP WORK
"Large table" subcommittees, comprised of union negotiators from CBC-affiliated unions, concluded their work on Friday. The Pension and Insurance Subcommittee, co-chaired by Local 506 Business Agent Pat Rafferty, and the Contract Language Subcommittee, co-chaired by UE International Representative Chris Townsend, met throughout the day. UE national negotiating committee members were present and active at both tables, along with dozens of representatives of the other unions of the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC).
PENSION AND INSURANCE SUBCOMMITTEE
The Pension and Insurance Subcommittee summarized union pension demands in the morning session, and healthcare and medical proposals in the afternoon. Subcommittee Co-Chair Pat Rafferty,Local 506, reviewed the massive annual income of the GE pension trust as compared to the benefits that must be paid out. The GE pension plan paid out $2.47 billion to beneficiaries in 2006,while gaining $7.8 billion in the value of its investment holdings. Later in the session Rafferty reminded the company that disability pension supplements had not been increased in many years, and that both the disability pension and the supplements were long overdue for increases.
In summarizing the work of the subcommittee, Rafferty reminded GE that their proposals on new hire concessions, along with their lack of commitment on SERO and SERO windows, was an affront to the membership. With no structural increase for retirees in more than seven years, and very little offered so far to improve the pension tables, Rafferty told the company that on the pension issue alone, it still has a long way to go to offer an acceptable contract package.
UE was represented at the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee by Co-Chair Pat Rafferty, Local 506; Secretary-Treasurer Bruce; Ed Baran, Local 751; Marcia Barnhart, Local 731; LyndaLeech, Local 618; and Bruce Reese, Local 332.
CONTRACT LANGUAGE SUBCOMMITTEE
The Contract Language Subcommittee spent its final day reiterating union proposals. Scott Gates, Local 332, blasted GE for its poor handling of hours and overtime issues. "Overtime is our biggest issue in Ft. Edward ... we walked out over it. The managers won’t follow the contract," said Gates. He went on to explain that managers at his plant exhibit a "disregard for seniority."
During a review of various contract language provisions such as the night shift bonus and job progression schedules which affect new hires, Subcommittee Co-Chair Chris Townsend questioned the company on why it discriminates against these workers. "You chisel new hires at the start of their careers, and now you are proposing to do so at the end of their careers as well. We see a pattern here of victimizing these workers, and it is wrong," said Townsend. John Payne, Local731, echoed this sentiment, saying, "I had to wait three years to get the full wage on the job that I had bid on ... I was resentful." UE negotiators also pushed the company hard to improve the several forms of paid time-off, including vacations,holidays, and sick and personal days.
During the subcommittee’s wrap-up session Chris Townsend counseled company negotiators to be mindful that they not allow forces within the company to "overreach" and drive the negotiations into the ditch. Townsend pointed out that GE benefits staff, legal staff, and even union avoidance department staff all appear to be exercising undue influence over the company’s union relations approach. He thanked the members of various unions on the subcommittee, and exhorted all to "keep doing what you are doing back in your locals" as the best way to achieve a satisfactory contract settlement.
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, Local1010.