Today in labor history: 20,000 GE workers strike over health care


On Jan. 14, 2003, nearly 20,000 General Electric workers went out on strike at 48 plants in 33 states, to protest the company's move to shift health care costs onto the workers. It was the first national strike against General Electric in 33 years. Members of the United Electrical Workers (UE) and the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE/CWA) conducted a two-day strike, in many cases braving freezing temperatures and snowy conditions to hold picket lines.

GE had announced its intent to substantially increase, before the end of the union contract, the costs to members and pre-65 retirees enrolled in its "managed care" health plan for prescription drugs, medical specialists, and emergency room care, as well as introducing for the first time a co-pay for in-hospital admissions. About 65 percent of GE workers were enrolled in that plan. The increases would affect the families of nearly 145,000 active and retired union members. A contract provision allowed the company to seek such mid-contract increases, but GE had never invoked it before.

When negotiations came to impasse last July, GE announced its intent to impose the increases on January 1, 2003, even though the entire UE-GE National Agreement was up for negotiation the same year.

The unions did not expect that the two-day strike would result in GE canceling the increases. Rather as UE General President John Hovis noted, "The strike is intended to demonstrate the membership's opposition to GE's cost shifting, to exact a price from GE for its action, and to mobilize resistance to GE's stated intention to seek additional cost shifting in contract negotiations to be held later this year."

Edward Fire, IUE-CWA president, said, "GE has provoked a strike through its greed. A company that sets record profits each year - $14.1 billion in 2001 - can afford to maintain health benefits without forcing workers and retirees to pay more."

The GE strike helped put the issue of health care coverage on the national worker rights agenda.


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  • It is indeed very unfair for GE to let its employees bear all the medical expenses themselves. It should have been anticipated that such a protest would take place in such a dire situation. If it was concerning non-illness procedures like cosmetic surgery, then it is rational for the workers to bear the costs. However, if the costs were incurred due to the workers' illnesses, then the company ought to pay for their expenses through the means of insurance or something.

    Posted by Shawn Williams, 09/25/2013 4:42am (2 years ago)

  • As people grow older, health care costs increase. Companies who provide health care benefits to their employees and retirees should be able to incorporate some buffer for it to be able to accommodate health care of their aging workforce and retiree pool. Otherwise, it would be a cause for a gradual demise of a company, as health care costs are known to rise over time. And this information should be made transparent to their employees and retirees.

    Posted by Shawn Williams, 07/15/2013 5:13am (2 years ago)

  • nothing has changed at ge over the 42 years i worked there just more greed they have gotton real bad the last couple years
    nothing but greed all should be shot

    Posted by daniel mcgreevy, 01/26/2013 4:10pm (3 years ago)

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