GE to Union Bargainers –
“Like it or Lump It”
New York – Thursday, June 16
Small Table Report
After enduring two days of GE’s odious takeaways, Thursday morning saw GE “roll-out” its proposals on wages and job and income security. Any wishful thinking of a change of direction on GE’s part proved to be that – wishful thinking.
GE’s wage presentation didn’t last long – and that’s just as well.
Having proposed huge cost-shifting to employees on health care, one naive to the ways of GE might have presumed that the company would try to at least soften the blow by offering some real money in our pay checks. No such luck. Instead, GE literally and figuratively continues to be intent on giving GE workers their lumps.
The company’s proposal provided for a lump sum payment in the first year of a proposed four-year contract, rather than a structural general increase. Lest anyone think they are in line to get a big pile of money, think again. The lump sum’s size was certainly less than grandiose and, unless one is uncommonly frugal, will quickly evaporate.
Wage Offer Too Small to Pay
for Gas to Travel to Work
Nor is there anything to feel good about in succeeding years. GE did offer structural increases in years two, three, and four, but in such small bite-sized amounts that it is unlikely to cover the gas bill for driving back and forth to work. The company did propose to renew our cost-of-living (COLA) provision, but with no improvement in our COLA formula which deteriorates over time as prices increase.
Under the formula that GE wants to leave untouched, we’re now down to less than 40% protection against inflation, and will plummet even further unless this glaring omission from GE’s offer is corrected. GE’s low-ball proposal, coupled with their planned implementation of Health Choice, adds up to a substantial real wage cut for GE workers over the next four years. This from a company whose profit picture going forward is the brightest it has been in over 10 years according to its chief financial officer.
Zero on SERO
Union bargainers were then treated to GE’s version of job and income security which featured no jobs, no security, and an attack on the most important income security item in the current contract – namely SERO.
GE proposed to wipe out this vital benefit, first negotiated in 1988, in its entirety, claiming it is too expensive. Unmentioned is the expense long-service workers bear when GE decides to subcontract them out of a job. In its 23-year history, SERO never served to curb GE’s appetite for job elimination, but at least it enabled eligible workers to retire early with ongoing medical insurance. Now in the words of the late UE cartoonist, Fred Wright, it is simply “so long partner.” Union bargainers quickly added this GE proposal to their lengthening “intolerable” list.
On the positive side, GE did propose at least to renew the Plant Closing Pension option. Having closed nearly 30 plants and service shops in the last two and a half years or so, the current GE administration, like its predecessors, unfortunately has plenty of experience dispensing this benefit.
GE did offer a small Income Extension Aid (IEA) improvement affecting low service workers, as well as a good move on language concerning continuity of service restoration. In the afternoon, they also came across with a number of positive items affecting apparatus service workers.
Still a Bad Health Choice
The final item of the day concerned health care. GE made a couple of changes to its previously proposed Health Choice Plan to make it a little less onerous, but it would be wrong to say that anything other than a gigantic crevasse separates the two sides on this vital issue.
UE Members on the Move
Meanwhile union members across the country are in motion in support of their union. The UE Local 506 band has been in particularly good form rattling the dust off their buildings in an exercise known as “band practice.” And a special shout out is due to Building 6 Erie workers who honed their marching skills in a brief parade featuring plastic buckets for percussion.
As for Local 332, Ft. Edward, NY, a rally is planned for tomorrow (Friday) about which we will provide more details later. All around the GE chain, union shirts, signs, and assorted paraphernalia are much in evidence. This support is vital to our union’s efforts to secure a measure of justice from GE here in New York City. Keep it coming and stay tuned.
UE was represented at the small table by General President John Hovis and Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey.
Large Table Reports
Pension and Insurance Subcommittee
Anger resulting from data proving that GE had assumed $4.4 billion in pension obligations for 3,200 highly paid executives – an average of $1.38 million in pension obligations for each boss – continued to boil over as the large table discussion resumed on Thursday.
One IUE-CWA bargainer bluntly told the company that if it continues with its Health Choice, no-SERO, and no pension for new hire proposals, his members had already authorized a strike and that he would use that authorization if necessary.
Another union representative pointed to the data on the golden parachute pension (supplied by UE) and wondered how many SEROs $4 billion would cover.
Wayne Burnett, Local 506 Business Agent reminded the company that 6,000 Erie members produced 400-500 locomotives when he was first hired. Now, after job combinations, layoffs, and farm-outs, 3,600 workers produce 900 locomotives. Burnett told the company “SERO is very important to us. GE has the money to continue and improve SERO and there is no way I will go back to my local and ask them to ratify a contract without SERO.”
Also on the issue of SERO, former Local 618 leader and current spokesmen for Retirees Association of General Electric (RAGE) Ron Flowers reminded the company: “A few years ago, the company was begging Erie people to take SERO retirements when work was slow, but what you forgot to tell them when you asked them to retire is what you propose to do now, massively shift health care costs from GE to them.”
Another IUE-CWA bargainer flatly told the company - “Guess what, No SERO, no work!” A UAW negotiator from Evendale exclaimed: “If there’s a time to take on the company, it’s now, it’s this contract, if the company doesn’t get off of its proposals.”
Referring to GE’s attack on SERO, medical care, and pension participation for new hires, Wayne Burnett told the company that he “will be watching the news to see what Jeff Immelt [the point man on the national job’s committee] tells President Obama when GE workers are out on strike.”
UE International Rep. Gene Elk reported UE has learned that the company has installed large flat-screen TVs in some of its plants. “I don’t suppose you’re going to broadcast news to our members about the extra pension plan for highly paid bosses. I guess you’re going to try to sell your toxic stew of no SERO, Health Choice, and no pension plan for new hires to our members.” Elk continued, “The company is over-reaching here. We ask you to go back to GE’s small committee members and tell them that they’re over-reaching so that they and the people who give them their marching orders fully understand what’s at stake here.”
UE and CBC representatives will continue discussions in the Pension and Insurance Committee on Friday morning.
UE was represented at the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee by Co-Chair Wayne Burnett, Local 506, General Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple, Angel Sardina, Local 332 and International Rep. Gene Elk.
Contract Language Subcommittee
The Contract Language Subcommittee met through the day again on Thursday. A wide-ranging list of demands was read, explained, re-read, and debated with the Company.
The morning session was dominated by union negotiators who told the Company in no uncertain terms that the final contract must include the various SERO pension features.
Local 506 President Roger Zaczyk told the company that, “in manufacturing our bodies wear out ... the SERO and the replacement feature are needed.” Local 618 President Mary Stewart-Flowers added that, “You need to do SERO again.” Local 332 President Scott Gates opened up on GE by offering that “When GE talks about SERO all we are hearing is costs, costs, costs ... but when GE wants to (use SERO to) move jobs we don’t hear that.”
Among the many other bargainers who went to work on the Company about the SERO issue was subcommittee Co-Chair and UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “GE Capital gave the hopelessly bankrupt low-end clothing retailer Steve and Barry’s $197 million in the midst of the financial debacle in 2008. They defaulted in just a couple months. GE Capital just threw that money away. And that was real money, not accounting figures. You have the money for SEROs if you have money to waste like that. Period.”
The afternoon portion of the subcommittee was consumed by a review of topics such as union demands to improve relocation and interview allowances, a discussion on preferential placement, as well as a summary of the needed improvements to Income Extension Aid (IEA) benefits.
Local 506’s Zaczyk pushed GE on the preferential placement issue by demanding that “Workers be allowed to move to jobs in companies that are GE joint ventures or are companies controlled by GE.”
The session wound up with additional discussion and debate about the need for GE to force its managers to seriously participate in the Job Preservation process at the local level. The Company conceded that this had been a problem and they indicated that they would take note of this as they crafted their final contract offer.
At the conclusion of the day, UE’s Townsend asked the Company what exactly they intended by rolling out the new in-plant video network labeled as “GE TV.” With no satisfactory explanation to be heard, Townsend warned GE that, “We see exactly what you’re doing with thi s‘Boulware Channel’” (Lemuel Boulware was a former GE vice-president who became famous for his “take it or leave it” approach to collective bargaining with GE unions combined with a massive public relations pitch in GE communities).
“You obviously plan on trying to sell the final agreement – if there is a final agreement – by showing one-sided commercials for the contract.” Company negotiators sputtered a denial about GE-TV, but all the union bargainers recognized that this scheme to launch an in-plant video sales pitch for the coming contract as the real reason for this not-so-new GE tactic.
UE was represented at the Contract Language subcommittee by Co-Chair Chris Townsend, Political Action Director, Roger Zaczyk, Local 506, Scott Gates, Local 332, and Mary Stewart-Flowers, Local 618.