After strike authorizations, unions open bargaining with General Electric
Thibault Camus/AP

CINCINNATI —After a multitude of overwhelming local votes to authorize a company-wide strike, bargainers for the 11-union joint coalition representing General Electric workers nationwide opened talks with the firm on June 3 in Cincinnati.

The second session, the next day, saw the coalition present proposals to raise workers’ wages and to include an escalator for inflation while pointing out the value the workers bring to the firm. The unions’ current contract with GE expires June 23.

The workers’ bargainers, led by Communications Workers President Chris Shelton, International Union of Electrical Workers-CWA Sector President Carl Kinnebrew and Machinists Vice President Bryan Bryant, also proposed protecting and expanding health care benefits. The company “responded with their own proposals” for workers and retirees, which were not publicly disclosed, the union team said.

For the first time ever, the union bargaining team did not include the United Electrical Workers, an independent and often militant union that fiercely opposed the company in past talks. In an e-mail, UE Communications Director Jonathan Kissum explained that “since February, when Wabtec took over GE Transportation, we no longer represent any GE workers — they have shut down or sold off every single UE shop.”

“Since the Coordinated Bargaining Committee last negotiated in 2015, the CBC unions have lost thousands of members due to GE closing or selling facilities,” said Bryant. “In fact, this CBC lost a major union when the Erie, Pa., UE location was sold off, and since the 2015 negotiations, the IAM lost the Salt Lake City plant when GE closed it down.” Erie was the GE Transportation plant.

“Even as we meet here there is uncertainty with the news that GE is considering spinning off its medical division,” he added. “This will have a significant impact on the IAM, as the majority of our members would move out of the master agreement and into something else. For our members impacted, the IAM will exhaust all efforts to protect their interests.”

What happened to UE is reflected in the talks, too. The joint bargaining committee said the workers’ third top concern was to fight plant closures. Local strike authorization votes also disclosed GE workers’ priorities in the talks. Examples include:

“We will not bail out GE with concession bargaining or take it or leave it tactics! Period!’ declared Rob Macherone, IUE-CWA Local 301 business agent in Schenectady, N.Y.  “Our members expect and demand a fair and equitable contract. Our members earned and deserve affordable healthcare, job protections, and living wages. Local 301 has the CBC’s back in their fight for a fair contract.” Some 95% of his voting members approved authorizing a strike.

Adam Kaszynski, President IUE-CWA Local 201 in Lynn, Mass., warned GE honchos that workers’ new militancy isn’t confined to teachers from coast to coast, or to the UE.

“Since 2018 there has been a shift in the labor movement, from bargaining as usual to fighting back. It is not lost on this union that we are in a historic moment – and labor must get on the offensive to survive,” he said. Lynn is one of GE’s largest and, for defense weaponry, most-important plants.

“This company has lost their direction and moral compass,” added Local 201 Business Agent Bill Maher. With bargaining starting just after Memorial Day, Maher noted the holiday commemorated “those who fought for the common good and the country — a country now run by corporations that ignore the working men and women that built this country. GE needs to wake up and strive to be the best…not the cheapest.”

“Job security, benefits” and “a more-sincere commitment from GE to the members in the bargaining unions of the CBA, for our sites,” led the priority list of Auto Workers Local 647, local President Tim Mason said. “We want to position GE for future success. However, that same commitment must include our future success as well.” Some 94% of voting members there authorized a strike. The local represents GE Aviation Plant workers and other plants in the Cincinnati area.

“I used to call our brothers and sister the frustrated 50,” said Travis Rosser, president of Steelworkers Local 1017, which represents GE Lighting Plant workers in Logan, Ohio. “But as of last month, we are down to the furious 44. Our members are tired of getting beat up like they have been in the last few contracts.” His members voted unanimously for strike authorization.

“We have been lighting up homes and business for 70 years here at Logan Glass Plant. We gave wage concessions and worked short-staffed when they claimed they needed us to do so. The company has completely beat us up on our insurance costs, and they still continue to take from those workers that built the house, our retirees. It’s time to stop all the corporate greed. If the mismanagement keeps on, it will be lights out in Logan.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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