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.

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