UE-GE 2011 Contract Information: Negotiations Summary - Friday, June 17 (#14)

Summary #14
LOUD Friday

New York – Friday, June 17

Small Table Report

Local 332 members talk to the media ...
LOUD AND CLEAR: Local 332 members talk to a reporter during Friday's spirited demonstration in Ft. Edward, NY. It's possible the crowd was able to hear the din being made by UE members in Erie, PA. There are more photos on Flickr.

It was a long and interesting day at the small table but the real action took place hundreds of miles from New York City in both Pennsylvania and New York (state).

In Erie, Pennsylvania, Locals 506 and 618 members engaged in what is known as “loud Friday” during which quite a din was created in and around the Erie works.

Abundant numbers of bikers from around the union ranks, who were so prominently seen and heard at the great rally on June 4, once again added considerably to the decibel level around the plant. A rank-and-file “horn section” added to the symphony and, of course, the UE musicians were everywhere decked-out in union shirts. The musical assemblage honed their skills with crescendos of percussion at its finest.

Loudest of all were the locomotive horns which, for some mysterious and unexplained reason, actually blared inside the buildings, creating a wall of noise loud enough to echo well into Lake Erie.

The thoroughly mobilized membership has demonstrated its absolute willingness to do whatever it takes to extract a fair and decent contract from General Electric with D-day a scant two days away. UE Locals 506 and 618 are clearly in fighting trim.

Not to be outdone, UE Local 332 in Ft. Edward, New York staged a successful plant gate rally on Friday afternoon. Not only did the Local 332 members turn out in force, but no fewer than 14 other labor organizations came out in support including IUE-CWA Local 301. A sea of red shirts demanded GE withdraw its takeaway proposals and come across with something decent at the bargaining table.

Small Table: Ups and Downs

Back in the more mundane world of New York City, small table bargainers endured a long day of ups and downs. GE made a second pass at a wage proposal which remains woefully inadequate. The two sides swapped insurance proposals, while union bargainers offered a counterproposal on pensions. One positive was GE’s offer of an improvement in the vacation schedule and thereafter a partial – but only partial – retreat from its proposal to abolish SERO.

GE also offered an improvement to first day hospital coverage uncovered by Medicare in the Medical Care Plan for Pensioners (MCPP). However, this was more than offset by the Company’s attempt to sharply increase the costs borne by both pre-65 retirees and participants in the Pensioners Prescription Drug Plan.

And of course, the huge issues of new hires’ pension participation and GE’s Health Choice Plan are nowhere near resolution, if in fact they can be resolved at all. That much has come through loud and clear on Loud Friday.

UE was represented at the small table by General President John Hovis and Conference Board Secretary Steve Tormey.

Pension and Insurance Subcommittee

With a contract expiration looming in less than 72 hours, GE negotiators began Friday’s final session by re-raising the FMLA issue which had been discussed on Wednesday. At first union bargainers politely engaged the company in the discussion, but the union representatives soon became impatient with the company’s insistence on discussing a relatively minor issue when much more important contract issues were awaiting resolutions.

Instead of discussing contract issues, company negotiators attempted to provide a “non-controversial” slide presentation touting the virtues of their health coaches and wellness programs. UE Local 332 Business Agent Angel Sardina told the company that the “health coaches are great ... we like that. However, we’re worried about how we’re going to pay the bill. With the new plan [Health Choice] GE is proposing, I’d have to worry about how to pay the doctor’s bill. Every year, you’re making big profits – but I would like to use our health care without going broke.”

UE Local 506 Business Agent Wayne Burnett echoed Sardina’s comments: “You take that plan back to the small table and tell them that no one in this subcommittee is interested in Health Choice. We don’t need it and don’t want it.”

United Message

The CBC subcommittee co-chairs told GE that they had no interest in viewing their presentation. After a short recess, the union bargainers returned to the subcommittee, and during the next several hours, each of the 35 representatives told GE about their position on the key pension and insurance issues.

Speaker after speaker leveled blistering attacks on the company proposals. An IAM bargainer told the company that he has never seen his members so united and the issues are Health Choice, pensions for new hires, and the company’s attack on SERO. Another IUE-CWA bargainer told GE: “You’re probably going to try making some minor changes to that piece of s__ health care proposal. I’m here to tell you that is not going to fly.”

Another IUE-CWA speaker from the midwest recounted that he recently received an email from back in the plant with a picture of the entire first shift wearing their blue union T-shirts and commented: “If any of the three takeaways [Health Choice, SERO, and no pensions for new hires] are still on the table at the end, I promise a ‘No’ vote.” An IUE-CWA bargainer from a large industrial plant looking forward to his hard-earned retirement remarked: “Future pensioners, if I forgot about them, they’re not going to take care of me.”

Wayne Burnett, UE Local 506 said: “We’re not going backwards. I know that our people in Erie are ready to do whatever we have to do” to get a fair contract. “We need decent health care, SERO, and a defined benefit pension plan for new hires,” Burnett emphatically reminded the company.

Ron Flowers, Retirees Association of General Electric (RAGE) and former Local 618 leader told the subcommittee that he was celebrating his 50th year of membership in UE. The GE retiree spoke about the massive cuts that pensioners would suffer under Health Choice and plaintively asked company bargainers: “Would you do this to your mother or father?”

“I want to talk about Lemuel Boulware,” UE International Rep. Gene Elk told the company. He continued: “Boulware was a GE vice-president who developed a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to bargaining and then used pitchmen like Ronald Reagan to sell the proposals to GE communities in the 1950s and we know that you plan an updated hi-tech version of Boulwarism now.

Your claim that you need takeaways to remain competitive is bogus because you are the envy of the corporate world and GE is far more profitable than all of its domestic and international competitors.” Concluding his comments, the UE International Rep asked GE to withdraw its takeaways and prove to us that Boulwarism is dead.

On this last day of work for the Pension and Insurance subcommittee, UE was represented by Co-Chair Wayne Burnett, Local 506, Angel Sardina, Local 332 and International Rep. Gene Elk. General Secretary-Treasurer Bruce Klipple spoke at the rally in Ft. Edward and did not attend today’s subcommittee.

Contract Language Subcommittee

The fourth and last session of the Contract Language subcommittee met on Friday morning. Union negotiators put the meeting to good use, reviewing the various contract language proposals made by the CBC unions. The union side of the table made sure that the company was well aware of the needs of the membership working in the large and small plants all over the country.

The morning meeting also featured a unified and disciplined chorus of union voices pushing back against the Company’s radical and sweeping demands for concessions.

Local 506 President Roger Zaczyk blasted GE in the final stretch of bargaining. I’ve heard the word ‘volatility’ so many times in these negotiations from the Company ... shame on us if we forget about how and what it took to get to where we’re at today ... [and] shame on us if we close our eyes and hearts on the ones to come.” said Zaczyk.

Local 618 President Mary Stewart-Flowers followed and sternly served notice to GE; “I urge you to take hard look at the effects your health care (concessions) will have on salaried and hourly both.” Local 332 President Scott Gates continued the volley with, “We made this company what it is - we need a decent contract.”

Subcommittee Co-Chair Chris Townsend summarized the sentiments from the union side of the table and proceeded to calmly tick off what had been learned during the several weeks of bargaining so far. “GE is gambling here ... so you gamble that you can force-feed us the s___ sandwich of concessions. You have pushed this battle to the very edge. GE has not made an economic argument for your assault, but you have made a political justification of ‘we’ll try it because everyone else is doing it.’ Well, we intend to fight you every step of the way,” said Townsend.

On this last day of work for the Contract Language subcommittee, UE was represented by Co-Chair Chris Townsend, Political Action Director, Roger Zaczyk, Local 506, Scott Gates, Local 332, and Mary Stewart-Flowers, Local 618.