GE embroiled in contract talks

It’s time to talk.LYNN – Negotiations between GE and its major unions over a national labor contract are under way in New York.Talks began in late May with the International Union of Electronic Workers/Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) and, separately, with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).The present four-year national contracts with those unions expire at midnight on June 17.”Our goal is to negotiate fair contracts that will continue to provide employees with attractive wages and benefits while keeping GE’s diverse businesses competitive – just as we’ve done for 11 consecutive negotiations,” said Bill Casey, GE’s chief negotiator.Casey has Lynn roots and the national contract talks are his first as chief negotiator.In his opening remarks in New York, Casey referred to his tutelage under the late Charles Ruiter of Lynn, who, ironically, served as IUE Local 201 business agent from 1989 to 1996, and later became a member of the union’s national conference board.As Casey put it, “I join you here today convinced of something I learned in my first labor assignment in Lynn. My teacher on this particular occasion was someone many of you knew well, Charlie Ruiter. After a few rancorous early skirmishes, Charlie explained his theory of keeping score in this trade. In his view, being successful was not about winning, per se. It was about resolving issues. I spent the better part of the next three years learning and relearning that difference. I don’t, therefore, come here to ‘win’ this round of negotiations. To do so would lead, I’m sure, to a mutual loss and the end of that illustrious track record.”Ric Casilli, the present IUE-CWA 201 business agent, a member of the national negotiating team and Ruiter’s successor, left for New York on Monday where he will remain for the next 10 days as the negotiations proceed.Separate talks will be held with each union. The IUE-CWA represents about 10,000 GE employees and the UE about 4,000. The IUE-CWA agreement covers workers at the GE aircraft engine plant in Lynn, the city’s largest employer.The contract directly covers 2,100 employees, and indirectly affects approximately 1,600 management employees who obtain pension and healthcare benefits through GE. It blankets GE facilities in locations such as Louisville, Ky.; Schenectady, N.Y. and Arkansas City, Kan.Major GE locations covered by the UE contract include Erie, Pa. and Fort Edward, N.Y.In addition to the two nationally bargained contracts, there are local contracts with nine other unions representing about 6,600 GE employees. Talks on these local contracts will begin at GE plant locations around the country during the next several weeks.Casilli explained that the negotiating takes place at three different tables. “The small table is where the top national union leaders and top GE negotiators go. There are two other rooms, one where I sit as a member of the Pension and Insurance Subcommittee, and another where the Contract Language Subcommittee meets to discuss holidays, sick time, vacations, and job-security language.Negotiations are held Monday through Sunday.”We anticipate a final offer from GE before midnight on Sunday, and if we get that, we normally will put in for 10-day extension for us to review and take any necessary votes,” he said. “The last time, four years ago, they actually went into Monday before we got the offer. That was the first time that ever happened because they were up fighting all night.”According to Casilli, the union issues are divided into offensive and defensive categories. “A pension increase for current members and for retirees is a major offensive issue for us,” he said. “We also have three defensive issues. So far, the company has not made any proposals, but they’ve shown intent that they want major contribution increases, which would shift the burden onto the employees.”Casilli said the formulas are wage-based and depend on the employee’s specific health plan, but th

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