They came by motorcycle; they came by car; they came by foot. Thousands of GE workers and their supporters came to a rally at the Gannon University Hammermill Center in Erie, Pennsylvania to show solidarity and demand a decent contract from GE. So many people came that they overwhelmed the school’s security system.
“This is great to see, I’m surprised by the turnout.” said Michael Wertz, a GE Transportation worker and member of UE Local 506, one of the two UE locals that represent workers at GE’s locomotive plant in Erie.
While workers waited on the rally to begin, some had the chance to tell GE personally what they wanted from their new contract. “Don’t screw with our health care,” said Dana Smith. “No concessions,” said Dan Burjorski. “One tier, one union,” said Shannon Weaver.
“We’re looking for a fair contract,” said Scott Slawson. “We’re looking for a piece of everything you’ve got, too. Good health care, good pensions. Good pay.”
The rally was hosted by UE Local 506, which represents workers at the GE locomotive plant in Erie, and UE Local 618, which represents non-exempt salaried employees at the Erie plant. The rally was attended by GE workers from all parts of the country. Some are represented by UE, some by CWA-IUE, and others by United Steelworkers, United Autoworkers, Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Electricians, and Sheet Metal Workers International Association. They all stood together in solidarity at the rally.
They heard Local 506 president Roger Zaczyk tell the crowd how important it is that GE understand that its workers are united. “Many of you have been turning it loose in your shops,” said UE Local 506 president , referring to the union’s campaign to build solidarity on the shop floor for the contract fight. “I’m telling you that New York City (where the contract negotiations are taking place) is hearing you loud and clear.”
Even though GE made more than $14 billion in gross profits last year and has a backlog of orders at many of its plants, GE wants union workers to agree to give up their comprehensive health care plan and accept a high deductible plan that will increase workers’ out-of-pocket expenses, to agree to a continuation and expansion of a two-tiered wage system that will mean lower pay for new workers, to agree to changes to the pension plan that will put retirees’ pensions at risk and prohibit new hires from being covered by a secure defined benefits pension plan, and to agree to other concessions.
“This is a three-generation attack; no one is spared,” said Ric Casilli, business agent for CWA-IUE Local 201 in Lynn, Massachusetts. “They are going after the retirees on the pensions, workers on pensions and health care, and new hires on a two-tiered wage system.
Those at the rally cheered loudly when “Turn it Loose,” a short video about GE’s past labor history and the fights that its workers have put up to win and protect a decent standard of living, played.
Before the rally got underway, those in the audience heard a resolution from the Erie City Council that praised the UE locals for their contribution to the local community and declared June 4 (the day of the rally) to be UE Local 506 Day.
After a four-day weekend break, negotiations between GE and UE and CWA-IUE will resume on Tuesday, June 7. The present contract expires June 19.