Statement of the
United Electrical, Radio
& Machine Workers (UE) on
the Contract Settlement with GE
Pittsburgh – Thursday, June 30, 2011
The new proposed 2011-2015 National Contract with GE has been ratified by the UE-GE membership. The Agreement contains some good improvements as well as some major deficiencies. Feeling emboldened by the overall economic and anti-union political atmosphere, which GE plays a significant role in shaping, the Company made it clear many months ago that it intended to extend to the hourly workforce takeaways it had already imposed on its non-union salaried employees. These included a new high-deductible medical insurance plan, as well as the exclusion of new hires from the defined benefit GE Pension Plan.
Sizing up the 2011 round of negotiations, we knew that early preparations for an all-out mobilization would be needed to defend UE members and our contract. Working together with other unions in the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC), we did succeed in prioritizing the critical issues of the negotiations, assembling rank-and-file forces last January in Evendale, OH, and moving forward to solidify the collective response to the expected company assault.
The June 4 overflow crowd attending the UE Local 506 sponsored CBC rally in Erie was confirmation that those efforts had borne fruit. The Local 506 and 618 memberships ratcheted up mobilization actions, culminating in “Loud Friday” on June 17, while negotiations proceeded in New York. Rank-and-file actions by UE members at Local 332 in Ft. Edward, NY were also key in the build up to the June 19 Contract expiration. UE members’ voices were heard loud and clear by GE management from the beginning to the end of these negotiations.
Nevertheless, it remained obvious that we faced a company which had set itself in concrete with respect to its main objectives. And while UE members were reaching full-blast volume in their workplace actions, a similar growing trajectory of momentum occurred at only a handful of CBC locals. While GE did give ground on a number of issues in the face of the spirited fightback mounted by UE locals and certain other CBC locations, the difficult economic climate, as well the uneven organizational state of the CBC unions, convinced us that the prolonged, unified strike that would be necessary to move GE further on the key issues of medical insurance and new hires’ pensions was unlikely to be carried out successfully.
Accordingly, having extracted the best terms possible short of strike action, we entered into a tentative agreement with GE on June 19 and recommended acceptance of the new contract proposal, an action with which the UE-GE Conference Board concurred in its meeting of June 23. As we have noted, the new National Contract contains both advances and setbacks. We have no interest in “spinning” the outcome, other than to say we are proud of the support given to our negotiating committee by our UE-GE membership.
If there is a lesson to be learned from these negotiations, it is that we must continue to increase our efforts at membership education and mobilization in the entire GE chain in the face of what will surely be difficult dealings with GE in the future. The next round of bargaining in 2015 may seem to be a long way off, but the time to begin preparing is now.
June 30, 2011