LYNN — General Electric and its largest union, International Union of Electrical Workers — Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA), are returning to the bargaining table on Sunday.
Last month, IUE Local 201, which represents 1,253 employees at General Electric’s River Works Plant in Lynn, rejected its proposed four-year labor contract with the company, which was affirmed by a nationwide vote of the union. Employees at GE’s steam turbine plant in Schenectady also turned down the deal.
It was the first time the union has collectively voted to reject a national contract with the company since 1969. The current deal expired on June 23.
The return to bargaining between IUE-CWA and GE negotiators was moved up a week, from Aug. 12, after another of the company’s unions, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) rejected its proposed contract this week and served the company with a 10-day strike notification. IAM plans to begin the strike on Aug. 12, according to an IAM press release.
It’s unclear how long negotiations will take, but if another agreement is reached between IUE-CWA and the company, IUE Local 201 will vote again, on whether to accept the new deal or to reject it and strike, according to Adam Kaszynski, president of Local 201.
“We prepare for a strike until we have an agreement, absolutely,” Kaszynski said. “They’re going back to the table so nothing has happened since the contract has been rejected. This is the first step since then. I think that’s a positive development and we’ve got to see where it goes.”
Although the company’s 11 unions have different rules, Kaszynski said IAM’s decision would likely have an impact on negotiations.
“It shows that Lynn and Schenectady weren’t the only ones that felt this contract wasn’t fair to ratify,” he said.
In a Facebook post, Jerry Carney, IUE-CWA acting conference board chair and head of the union’s national bargaining team, said their priority has always been and continues to be to bargain for the best possible contract for its members. He said workers will continue to operate under the current expired contract during negotiations.
GE spokesman Richard Gorham said the company has agreed to meet with IUE-CWA leadership to discuss the labor contract and next steps for another vote by its members. The company agreed to move up the bargaining date following a request by the union. Despite the rejection, he said GE remains confident in its proposed contract.
“The proposed agreement between GE and the CBC, which was the subject of three weeks of negotiations in Cincinnati, has been endorsed by IUE-CWA leadership and its delegates and received a majority of ‘yes’ votes,” Gorham said in a statement. “We continue to believe that the proposed four-year contract provides solid wage increases and improved benefits to employees while keeping our business competitive.”
Although a majority of IUE-CWA members voted to approve the contact last month, GE Conference Board rules call for per capita, or block voting, while resulted in a collective rejection of the national contract. For instance, a “no” vote from Lynn resulted in 1,253 “no” votes, no matter what the final tally from Local 201 was.
Under the proposed deal, employees would receive three general wage increases totaling $1.80 per hour, two accelerated cash payments totaling $3,000 and a ratification bonus of $1,500. According to General Electric, based on an average wage of $31 per hour, that would result in an additional $10,450 in cash compensation over the length of the contract.
More than a half-dozen of the GE unions that make up the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC) have announced that their members have ratified the four-year agreement bargained between GE and the CBC. Additional CBC votes are taking place over the next few days, according to the company.
Last month, Kaszynski said the union took issue with an increase in healthcare premiums in the contract and a lack of a cost of living increase. In addition, although the contract called for hourly wage increases, he said the union hasn’t seen a percentage base wage increase since 2010.
General Electric and union negotiators have been bargaining for wages, healthcare and retirement at a time when the firm’s aviation business, including the River Works, are the bright spot on GE’s gloomy financial landscape.
Local 201’s national bargaining delegates voted to accept the tentative agreement on June 24, which was followed by a 201 Executive Policy Board in favor of the agreement two days later. But on June 27, 201’s Stewards Council overwhelmingly rejected the agreement by a 30-3 vote.