Uber driver wins misclassification case

The California Labor Commissioner recently ruled that former Uber driver Barbara Berwick was an employee of the ride share company, not an independent contractor, and therefore was owed more than $4000 in job-related expenses that Berwick paid while working for Uber.

While the ruling applies only to Berwick, the commissioner’s ruling could have far-reaching consequences for Uber and other employers who classify workers as independent contractors in order to lower their labor costs.

According to Bloomberg, the commissioner’s ruling, “strikes at the heart of (Uber’s) business model, (which) like other ‘sharing economy’ startups has built a business around a flexible car fleet piloted by people it contends are independent contractors. If Uber’s drivers were treated as employees, the company would be required to guarantee them a minimum wage, compensate them for mileage, and pay into social security.”

After the ruling was issued, Uber announced that it would appeal the commissioner’s ruling in court.

In announcing its decision to appeal, Uber touted its labor policies, which a company spokesperson said gives workers “complete flexibility and control.”

But some Uber drivers have a somewhat different view of Uber’s flexible labor policies. “Uber’s like an exploiting pimp,” said Arman, an Uber driver in Los Angeles to  writing for Jacobin. “Uber takes 20 percent of my earnings, and they treat me like shit — they cut prices whenever they want. They can deactivate me whenever they feel like it, and if I complain, they tell me to fuck off.”

Other Uber drivers critical of the company’s labor policies are a bit less caustic than Arman, who asked Asher-Schapiro not to use his last name. For them, the word that best describes Uber’s labor policies isn’t “flexible;” instead it’s “indifferent.”

Some Uber drivers have responded to the company’s indifference by organizing. One of the new app drivers organizations in Southern California is called the California App-based Drivers Association (CADA).

“(Uber’s) manifest indifference to the plight of its drivers . . . led drivers to form CADA,” said Lotfi Ben Yeder, a member of CADA’s leadership council.

Among other things, members of CADA complain that Uber doesn’t provide them with enough protection on the job.

One female driver who didn’t want her name used said that when a customer sexually harassed her, she wanted to end the ride but didn’t do so because she feared that the customer might give her a negative approval rating, which could lead to her being fired.

When she reported the harassment to Uber management, she said that she received no meaningful response.

Other drivers who belong to CADA complained that Uber’s approval rating system is arbitrary and not transparent. If drivers receive a bad rating,which could lead to their firing, there’s no way for them to appeal.

In addition, drivers are responsible for paying for gas, tolls, insurance, repairs, and other work-related expenses and receive no company benefits including health insurance. The company also doesn’t make social security or unemployment insurance contributions on behalf of the driver.

CADA has affiliated with Teamsters Local 986, which issued a statement after CADA was formed in 2014.

“We look forward to working with CADA to help the drivers win fairness in the workplace and help them get recognized for the work they do making Uber and other app-based companies successful,” said Chris Griswold, secretary-treasurer of Local 986. “These app-based companies need to start treating their professional drivers with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

Like their counterparts in Southern California, Uber and other app-based drivers in Seattle have formed their own organization–the App-based Drivers Association (ABDA).

Members of ABDA also complain about Uber’s non-transparent approval rating system and are seeking a voice to make it more fair.

“The association will give us a voice, more control over our working conditions, and an opportunity to be heard,” said Ydediya Seifu, a member of ABDA’s leadership council.

ABDA has affiliated with Teamsters Local 117.

The Berwick ruling by the California Labor Commissioner affects only one former driver, but the commissioner’s ruling does not bode well for Uber, which is facing challenges from other drivers, who contend that they are employees, not independent contractors.

The Berwick ruling dismisses Uber’s claim that it’s nothing more than a neutral technological platform that connects passengers with owner operator drivers.

According to the commissioner’s findings, “(Uber) controls the tools the drivers use,” closely monitors their approval ranking, and “terminates their access to the application (in other words, fires them) if the ratings fall below a specific level (4.6 stars).”

GE and unions reach tentative agreement; members still need to ratify it

Unions and GE on June 21 reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year collective bargaining agreement.

Leaders from local unions have arrived in New York City to review the agreement. If they recommend ratification, union members will vote on whether to accept or reject the agreement.

If ratified, the agreement could become a bellwether for other contracts being negotiated this year between large, global corporations like GE and the unions that represent their workers.

Corporations that will be bargaining new contracts include AT&T, Verizon, Ford, Chrysler, GM, US Steel, and Arcelor Mittal (steel) to name a few.

The new contract with GE does not include major concessions by the unions, which had become a trend, but it also does not make up for lost ground resulting from concessions made in previous contracts.

Among other things, the Coordinated Bargaining Committee, a coalition of eleven unions whose members work for GE, had made winning a significant wage increase a priority for this bargaining cycle.

According to UE, one of the two main unions of GE workers that along with IUE-CWA led the negotiations, the new tentative agreement increases compensation by $15,500 over the four-year life of the agreement.

Most of the compensation increase comes in the form of lump sum payments.

If workers ratify the agreement, they will receive a $2000 ratification bonus and a $1500 lump sum payment in July 2015.

After that they will receive three more lump sum payments: $2000 in January 2016, $2250 in January 2018, and $2250 in January 2019.

The lump sum payments will increase pension credits for those workers still enrolled in the company’s defined benefits pension plan and count toward increased company contributions to retirement savings plan for those workers no longer eligible to participated in the pension plan.

Hourly wage increases will be modest. Over the four-year life of the contract, wage rates will increase by $1.40 an hour implemented in four increments: $0.20 per hour in June 2016, $0.60 an hour in January 2017, $0.20 an hour in January 2018, and $0.20 an hour in January 2019.

The tentative agreement maintains the current fixed cost of living increase formula, which will help boost base pay beyond the $1.40 four-year total.

The wage increase will be offset somewhat my higher premiums for health care insurance. The agreement includes a sliding scale for determining health insurance premiums.

By the last year of the new agreement, UE members earning $87,500 a year will pay an additional $32.50 a week for full family coverage for the Option 1 health plan. Those making less will see a lower increase in premiums.

While premiums will increase, there will be no increase in the amount paid for deductibles and co-payments.

One of the main complaints raised by GE workers before bargaining began was that the new health care plan made access to health care more difficult and was resulting in late payments for providers.

They wanted changes to the plan. No changes were made in the tentative agreement, but the two sides agreed to jointly review the plan’s performance and make changes if the problems persist.

The tentative agreement also increases pension payments for active workers enrolled in the defined benefits pension plan, and GE agreed in a separate memorandum to request a pension increase at the next GE board meeting for those already retired.

Workers who were hired after the last contract expired in 2011 are no longer eligible to participate in the defined benefits pension plan. They are instead enrolled in a retirement savings plan. The tentative agreement did not change their status.

GE also maintained its two tiered wage system. Workers hired after 2005 will continue to receive a lower wage for the same work as those hired before 2005.

The new tentative agreement also contains language that will increase GE’s cost for outsourcing jobs or transferring work to non-union GE plants, but GE continues to look for ways to reduce its union workforce.

GE in 2013 transferred 950 union jobs at its locomotive plant in Erie, Pennsylvania to its non-union plant in Fort Worth, and it plans to close its Fort Edwards, New York capacitor plant and move the work to a non-union plan Clearwater, Florida by September 2015.

Should GE workers approve the new tentative agreement, they will likely find that they will have to continue fighting to prevent GE from chipping away at their hard-won gains.

Fight against fast track returns to the Senate

The US House of Representatives on June 18 revived fast track authority for trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and sent it back to the Senate for further consideration.

The Senate will vote on Tuesday on the bill that passed out of the House.

The vote came less than a week after the House voted down a version of fast authority that the Senate had sent to the House.

Fast track authority will make it more difficult for Congress to carefully review trade deals such as TPP, a trade pact being negotiated by the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries.

Opponents of fast track argue that past trade deals have resulted in the loss of good-paying jobs shipped overseas and lower wages for jobs that remained in the US. They also are concerned that TPP and other trade deals will make it more difficult to protect the environment, ensure food safety, and protect consumers.

Opponents of fast track criticized the House for not addressing the shortcomings of the original bill and vowed to continue fighting fast track authority when it reaches the Senate floor.

“Instead of addressing the massive failures of past trade agreements, the House and the President have doubled down on a disastrous strategy that will cost jobs, lower wages and worsen already record levels of income inequality,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, one of the unions whose members have been actively opposing fast track. “Going forward, we will shift our focus to the Senate where multiple Senators have already expressed doubt about this latest and most frantic attempt to pass fast track.”

The website Stop Fast Track has posted an online petition addressed to eight Democratic senators who have not committed on how they will vote on Tuesday.

The petition reads simply, “If you vote yes on fast track, we pledge to vote against you next election.”

The eight senators are Michael Bennet (Colorado), Tom Carper (Delaware), Chris Coons (Delaware), Ben Cardin (Maryland), Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire), Ron Wyden (Oregon), and Mark Warren (Virginia).

In order to keep fast track alive, the House leadership attached fast track authority to a non-controversial bill dealing with pensions for federal firefighters and other first responders.

The House fast track bill does not include some of the concessions that Senate Democrats won in the Senate version. For example, it does not contain any protections against human trafficking or currency manipulation. And the House version doesn’t include any assistance for workers whose jobs are shipped abroad.

That assistance is provided by a federal program called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), set to expire in September.

The original Senate version of fast track tethered fast track authorization to the reauthorization of TAA. The Republican Senate leadership did so to win the support of Democratic senators wavering on authorizing fast track.

Excluding TAA from the fast track bill will make it harder for Democrats to support the current House version, which must be passed in the exact form that it passed in the House before it can be sent to President Obama for his signature.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have promised Democrats that if they vote for fast track, they will get a chance to vote on TAA reauthorization at a later date.

But fast track opponents, which include labor, environmental, consumer protection, civil rights, and public interest groups warned Senators about taking such a promise in good faith.

“Any Democrat in Congress who trusts John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to pass trade adjustment assistance that will actually help working families deserves to lose their job,” said Jim Dean, chair Democracy for America to USA Today.

Government orders striking workers in Iceland back to work

Nurses at the Laudspitali National University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland began resigning en masse after the government passed legislation on June 12 ordering them back to work without a new contract.

Thousands of supporters of the nurses and other striking workers disrupted Iceland’s National Day celebrations on June 17 with angry demonstrations denouncing the government’s strike breaking actions.

The nurses’ strike began on May 27 after negotiations between the nurses’ union and the national government failed to produce a new labor agreement after the old one expired.

About 1,600 nurses who belong to the Icelandic Nurses Association walked off the job. Another 500 remained on the job to provide emergency services and ensure patient safety.

Before the nurses went on strike, other health care workers in the country had been on strike.

During the last two months, Iceland has been rocked by a number of strikes by all kinds of workers.

In April,  3,000 university workers including professors, graduate students, and research scientist went on and remain on strike.

They have been joined by midwives, x-ray technicians, and veternarians.

On May 28 and 29, workers in the commercial fishing and tourism industry industries, two of the country’s most important economic sectors, conducted limited strike actions.

Industrial workers planned to go on strike on June 6, but that strike has been postponed until June 22 as negotiations between the workers’ unions and the association of businesses continue.

Like the nurses, the other strikers are demanding higher wages.

According to Grapevine, an alternative English-language magazine published and based in Reykjavík, Iceland’s capital, there is an across the board wage crisis in Iceland.

“Even people earning above median wages have trouble paying basic bills,” reports Grapevine.

It wasn’t always like this in Iceland.

Like its wealthier Scandinavian neighbors, Iceland had a social democratic economy that produced widespread income security.

That began to change in the early 1990s when the government introduced market-friendly policies that began to erode the country’s social democratic principles.

At first, the market was good to Iceland, and prosperity reigned.

But in 2008 the country’s deregulated banking industry collapsed when the worldwide financial crisis hit home.

The entire country struggled, but those who earned their living through work bore the brunt of the crisis.

During the years that followed, wages dropped or were stagnant.

After a long wait, a recovery finally started to take root, but only a few reaped the benefits.

Grapevine reports that while Icelandic workers’ pay is generally lower than their counterparts in other Scandinavian countries, executive pay in Iceland is 5 percent higher.

While workers in the fishing industry were trying to get a decent pay raise to make up for lost ground since 2008, the fishing corporation HB Grandi gave its board members 33 percent increase in annual compensation,

An insurance company VIS went even further and gave its board members a 70 percent increase, which set off a public furor that forced the company to scale back the raise.

The wealthy and corporations have also received generous tax cuts while taxes on food and co pays for health care have increased.

“It seems as if there is more than enough money when it comes to raising wages for executives and people in the highest income brackets,” said Drifa Snaedal, leader of the Federation of General and Special Workers, a federation of 19 unions in the private and public sectors, to Grapevine. “But when workers ask for a living wage, all of a sudden times are really tough and everyone needs to tighten their belts so that we don’t threaten economic stability.”

The government’s strike breaking action affected other striking health care workers as well as the nurses, and it sparked an angry response from unions representing both sets of workers.

“The government is legislating a wage dispute it itself is party to,” which violates the constitutionally protected rights of labor unions, read a statement issued by the nurses’ union and BHM a labor federation whose members include other health care workers on strike.

BHM said that it planned to take legal action against the government.

The new law orders the striking workers back to work until July 1. During that time negotiations between the two sides will continue. If the government and workers’ unions can’t reach an agreement the dispute may be settled by an arbitrator.

There is concern that the government’s new law will set a precedent for other negotiations involving other public sector unions.

The new law appears to bar other public sector unions from striking, said Lára V. Júlíusdóttir, law professor at the University of Iceland, to Iceland Review.

If that is the case, Iceland’s workers may find that strikes–the most effective tool they have to close the growing wage gap between workers and their bosses–will no longer be recognized as legal.

Fast track falters in the House, but it’s not dead yet

The day after fast track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) faltered in the US House of Representatives, opponents of the corporate-friendly trade deal celebrated the victory but tempered their joy with a warning.

“The House of Representatives has done the right thing,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “But the fight is not over.”

The House on June 12 voted 302 to 126 to oppose the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a measure that was added to the Senate fast track bill in order to win support from wavering Democrats.

TAA reauthorization was the second piece of a two-bill package that the House needed to pass in order to send the Senate version of fast track authority for TPP to President Obama for his signature.

Supporters of fast track authority were disappointed in the June 12 vote but said that they would continue to seek fast track authority for TPP, a massive trade deal between the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries that will further encourage the offshoring of US jobs and make it more difficult for countries that are part of the deal to regulate their environment, protect consumers, and guard the public interest.

House Speaker John Boehner said that another vote on  TAA reauthorization could be taken early this week.

Trumka said that he was proud of the grassroots effort organized by a broad coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, consumer rights, faith, and social justice groups that made the June 12 vote possible and contrasted that effort to the usual way that business gets done in Washington.

“The debate over fast track so far has been a marvelous contrast to the corporate money and disillusionment that normally mark American politics today,” said Trumka. “This was truly democracy in action – millions of people exercising their free rights to inform their elected representatives.  We should all draw from this experience to help replenish our democracy at every level on every issue.”

The work toward building the coalition began in 2013 when diverse groups that saw the looming trade deal as threat to jobs, wages, the environment, consumer rights, civil rights, and the public interest decided that they couldn’t defeat the deal by working alone.

Since then, the coalition which includes hundreds of groups with millions of members, began educating and mobilizing their members.

When it became clear that President Obama would seek a vote on fast track this year, their mobilizing kicked into high gear.

Town hall meetings with lawmakers attended by thousands of activists were held; tens of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers were made; demonstrations took place at the Capitol, on Wall Street, and on Main Street.

That effort led to a narrower than expected vote in favor of fast track in the Senate.

In order to win that vote, the Senate Republican leadership had to agree to reauthorize TAA, which provides re-training and other support for workers whose jobs have been shipped abroad because of trade deals.

Democrats have been traditional supporters of TAA, which expires in September. Fast track supporters thought that including TAA reauthorization in the fast track package would help them win enough votes from House Democrats to pass fast track.

But the Senate TAA reauthorization bill was flawed.

Many if not most workers whose jobs are shipped abroad because of TPP won’t get any help because TAA funding is inadequate.

The bill also diverted  $700 million in Medicare funding to pay for TAA, which Medicare supporters feared could snowball and put the popular health care program in jeopardy.

“Using Medicare to fund unrelated programs is a relatively new yet growing trend in Congress that simply must stop,” said Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Medicare isn’t Washington’s ATM.”

The TAA reauthorization bill also excluded public sector workers, a large sector of the workforce that may need help if TPP passes because it will encourage the privatization and possible offshoring of more public services.

In 2009, public sector employees were made eligible for TAA benefits after a study by the Congressional Research Service found that 12 percent of public sector jobs in the US are offshorable.

These weaknesses made it easier for opponents to convince enough Democrats to vote down the measure.

The defeat of TAA reauthorization, however, doesn’t mean that fast track is dead.

Fast track supporters may try for another vote in the House, or they may try to work out a compromise in a House-Senate conference committee that revives fast track.

Opponents of fast track are urging those who been active in the fight against fast track to be ready to respond in large numbers to whatever tactic supporters choose to take.

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” said Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers to the Guardian. “They’re  trying to do everything they can to get this back on track.”

“We must fully defeat fast track, so that Congress can work for trade deals that give working families at least as much standing as corporations,” said Chris Shelton, the newly elected president of CWA. “Our broad coalition of Americans — representing millions of union members, environmental activists, immigrant rights advocates, people of faith, students, public health and consumer advocates, community leaders and so many more — will keep up the fight until fast track is defeated.”

ITF declares solidarity with workers at Chevron gas project in Australia

Unions affiliated with the  International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) voted recently to use any lawful means necessary to stop the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from a Chevron natural gas extraction project in Australia unless the company stops its union busting campaign at the project.

The dock workers section of ITF meeting in Perth, Australia passed a motion of solidarity with workers at the Chevron Gorgon gas project at Barrow Island, a remote island off the coast in Western Australia.

At the meeting, ITF President Paddy Crumlin said that he would declare the docks at Barrow Island a port of convenience when Chevron begins shipping gas from the project.

Such a declaration could lead to acts of solidarity at ports throughout the world that could prevent shipments of LNG from Barrow Island from being unloaded.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has accused Chevron of disregarding labor standards such as the right of workers to join a union and bargain collectively and the right to a reasonable level of health and safety standards at the Gorgon project.

“Chevron continues to seek to exclude my union from an Australian island to export natural gas which belongs to all Australians,” said Crumlin, who is also MUA’s national secretary. “Unless this changes, when the first shipment leaves Barrow Island, it will be declared a port of convenience.”

Crumlin added that Chevron has failed to build infrastructure and make improvements that it promised to local Barrow Island residents.

Chevron’s Gorgon project is a massive energy project that includes the building of offshore gas wells, a pipeline, an onshore facility where natural gas will be transformed into its liquefied form, docks and warehouses where equipment and supplies for the project are received and stored, and harbor equipment that will fill large ocean-going tankers with LNG for transport to the international market.

Chevron and its partners, a consortium of international energy companies, broke ground on the project in 2009.

The original cost of the project was estimated to be $37 billion, but the cost has ballooned to $54 billion.

Chevron originally told investors that it would begin shipping LNG by 2014, but Chevron failed to meet that milestone.

The company then said that shipping would begin by the summer of 2015, but now, Chevron says that the Gorgon project is only 90 percent complete and that gas shipment may not begin until the end of 2015.

Shell, one of Chevron’s partners on the project, estimates that gas shipments won’t begin until 2016.

The delays have raised concerns among the project’s investors, and Chevron is blaming the delays on the project’s unions and union workers.

When the Gorgon project began in 2009, Chevron signed labor agreements with MUA and other Australian unions setting wages and labor standards for the project.

But workers on the project complained that Chevron and its subcontractors did not always follow the terms of the agreement.

In 2012 things came to a head when dock workers at the Barrow Island port facility staged a walkout to protest poor health and safety conditions.

The lack of health and safety that caused the workers’ protest were part of a wider problem of mismanagement on the project.

The mismanagement problems are documented in a report written by Brandon Ellem, professor of labor relations at the University of Sydney Business School. The report was commissioned by MUA.

Among other things, the report says that poor communications between Chevron and its subcontractors and workers, an inefficient computer system used to plan and schedule work, logistical problems associated with the project’s remoteness, and the enormity and complexity of the project itself are the cause of the project’s delays and cost overruns.

Ellem’s report was published after Chevron reacted to the workers’ health and safety walkout by blaming union activity for the project’s slow progress. Among other things, Chevron accused the workers of being overpaid and lazy.

The company’s anti-union discourse came to a head in 2014 when Chevron filed suit against MUA for the workers’ 2012 walkout and demanded $20 million in damages.

According to the union, if Chevron wins the lawsuit and wins $20 million in damages, it would in effect bust the union.

But Professor Ellem’s report contends that Chevron’s lawsuit and anti-union media campaign is a smokescreen designed to obscure the company’s own faults.

He points out that the project’s labor costs are only 1 percent of the project’s total cost and couldn’t possibly account for the $17 billion cost overrun.

The report also shows that Chevron’s complaints about lack of productivity on the job are baseless.

“Is (blaming unions and workers) an adequate explanation (for the cost overruns and delays)?” asks Ellem in the report. “The short answer is: no. . . This report suggests these behaviors are more about blame-shifting than genuine analysis.”

At the ITF dock workers section meeting where the federation said that Barrow Island would be declared a port of convenience unless Chevron stops its union busting, Crumlin condemned Chevron’s blame-shifting and urged the company to work with unions to resolve the problems that have delayed the project.

“Employers need to clearly decide whether they want to work with unions – and we’ll be there – or against unions – and we’ll be there as well,” said Crumlin.

GE and unions begin bargaining; company takes a hard line

The first week of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between GE and its US unions wrapped up on June 5.

Union representatives attending the negotiations in New York City said that GE is willfully ignoring the important role that its workers have played in the company’s success over the last four years.

“The company has come out with a lot of information,” said Fred Harris, recording secretary for UE Local 601, who has been sitting at the bargaining table. “They basically said that they have a lot of money, but they want to keep the money. They don’t want to share it with the worker who produced the money.”

GE is bargaining with the Coordinated Bargaining Committee (CBC), a coalition of 11 unions whose members work for GE in the US. The two unions with the most members at GE are UE and IUE-CWA, and they are taking the lead during the negotiations.

The CBC is proposing a fair wage increase that reflects the important contribution that the workers have made to GE’s success and improves members’ standard of living.

It also wants

  • a health care plan that provides uncomplicated access to quality health care like the plan they had before the latest collective bargaining agreement went into effect,
  • a defined benefit pension plan that provides retirement security for all employees, including those hired after January 1, 2012, who the company has barred from participating in the pension plan, and
  • protections from outsourcing, which GE is using to lower labor costs and weaken the bargaining position of its union workers.

UE General President Bruce Kipple said that in 2011, the last time that the CBC and GE negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement, GE took advantage of the unions’ unfavorable bargaining position to “overreach,” which resulted in a roll back of health care and pension benefits and inadequate wage increases.

The union’s unfavorable bargaining position at the time was caused by GE’s financial instability, largely the result of management’s decision to enter the financial services business, a decision that nearly caused GE to crater after the 2008 financial crisis.

“Our members will not stand for another round of one-sided negotiations!” said Kipple during his opening remarks as the negotiations began. “We come to the bargaining table with proposals that push back against the company’s overreach of 2011.”

But as union representatives  presented their case for a fair contract during the opening week of negotiations, GE management appeared to be unmoved.

In one such presentation, union representatives described the problems that the company’s new health care plan has created.

“People are having all sorts of problems with this health care system,” said Sherice Stark, business agent for UE Local 332 during a break from the negotiations. “It’s too hard to use; it’s complicated; it’s expensive. (GE management) seem to shrug their shoulders and agree with us, but I haven’t seen any answers for this yet.”

The average union GE worker is paying 2.4 percent more for health care than they paid in 2011, which has resulted in a $21 million health care cost shift to workers.

The higher health care costs have eaten into take home pay.

According to a calculation made by UE researchers, after rising health care costs and inflation are taken into account, workers pay at GE went up only 0.52 percent a year.

At the same time that pay stagnated for workers, GE profits rose at a healthy clip.

In 2010, GE reported profits of $14 billion; four years later, it reported profits of nearly $18 billion, up by more than 25 percent.

GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt fared much better during this four-year period than the workers who made these profits possible.

In 2010, Immelt was paid $21.5 million in compensation; in 2014, his annual compensation soared by 73 percent to $37.25 million.

While the last four years have been good to Immelt and GE, the future looks even brighter.

GE representatives told union bargainers that the company has $250 billion worth of back orders booked, and most of those orders are for Tier 4 locomotives, LEAP aircraft engines, and H-class turbines, all of which are made by union workers.

The rosy outlook has led GE to announce that it will spend $50 billion to buy back stock shares, which will make wealthy investors even wealthier.

While GE seems more than ready and able to share its wealth with top executives and wealthy investors, it’s bargaining position so far suggests that it has a different agenda for workers.

As a result, this year’s bargaining will be as difficult as any since GE recognized its first union in 1938, and it may take more than hard bargaining to win a fair contract for GE workers.