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One Week from Bargaining Deadline, GE and Unions Far Apart, May Be Headed for Clash

 

With just one week to go in national negotiations between the General Electric Company and a coalition of unions, confrontation looks increasingly possible.  GE, whose 2010 profits were over $14.2 billion while it paid zero in 2010 federal income taxes, is seeking deep cuts in pensions, healthcare and other benefits to union workers.

At the conclusion of the June 9 bargaining session, union bargainer Steve Tormey of the United Electrical Workers (UE), told GE: “We are not the ones coming in here and trying to turn things upside down.  We will try very hard to resolve our differences.  But we are not going to accept peace at any price.”

GE seeks to exclude all future employees from the defined benefit pension plan.  With over $40 billion in assets, the pension fund is so well funded that GE has made no contributions since 1987.  For unions, it is clear that this attack on retirement for new hires would be the beginning of the end for current employee pensions.  GE also proposes to do away with its two existing health plans and force all employees into “Health Choice,” a high-deductible plan that would result in a sharp cost hike for employees.

A coalition of 10 unions is bargaining with GE in New York City, led by the two largest GE unions which hold national, multi-plant contracts.  Those are the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and the International Union of Electronic Workers, a division of the Communication Workers of America (IUE-CWA).  Other unions in the umbrella Coordinated Bargaining Committee of GE Unions (CBC) include the United Auto Workers (UAW), International Association of Machinists (IAM), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), and United Steelworkers (USWA).

The union contracts expire at midnight on Sunday, June 19.

Union negotiators were bolstered by a large, energetic June 4 rally, hosted by UE Local 506 in Erie, Pennsylvania, attended by some 3,500 union members — some coming by bus from plants as far away as Louisville, KY and Lynn, MA.  Workers filled a local college auditorium and cheered union leaders who warned the company to back off from its “overreaching” demands, and urged workers to turn up the heat on management and prepare for all eventualities.

UE is providing daily updates on the bargaining at www.ueunion.org/unity2011.html.


For more information contact UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend, 703-341-9446 or UE News Editor Al Hart, 412-471-8919 ext. 116, or visit www.ueunion.org/unity2011.html.


 

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