Unions want renegotiated NAFTA to put interests of workers first

In written comments to the US Trade Representative, unions urged the Trump administration to put the interests of workers and the public first when it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Trump in April set in motion the process for renegotiating NAFTA.

After that process was set in motion, interested parties had a chance to submit written recommendations for changes to NAFTA.

The deadline for submitting recommendations ended on June 12, and on that day, several unions and the AFL-CIO issued statements outlining their recommendations

The general theme of the recommendations was that NAFTA should be a new kind of trade agreement–one that “prioritizes benefits for working families, not simply benefits for multi-national or global enterprises,” reads a statement from the AFL-CIO.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said that a new NAFTA must be “New Deal” that benefits workers in Canada, Mexico, and the US.

Leaders of other labor organizations made a similar point.

“We must replace this deal written by and for multinational corporations with an agreement that is designed to live up to our values, create jobs, and raise wages for working men and women across North America,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America.

To make sure that workers receive the benefits of a renegotiated NAFTA, the new agreement must protect workers rights, added Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers.

“Most important among our recommendations,” said Gerard. “Is the need to ensure that internationally-recognized workers’ rights are promoted and also protected through aggressive enforcement provisions. Mexico has become a magnet for foreign investment in sectors like autos and auto parts because workers are not paid fair wages. That must change.”

The AFL-CIO’s recommendations also included changes that would protect the general public against corporate abuses.

“(Our) recommendations include changes to labor and procurement rules, as well as improved consumer protections and new rules to prevent currency misalignment and tax dodging. The improvements are meant to ensure working people receive a fair return on their work and new rules aren’t written to benefit wealthy corporations and CEOs,” reads a statement about its recommendations from the AFL-CIO.

In addition to ensuring that workers benefit from and their rights are protected by a revised NAFTA, unions called for other changes that protect consumers and the environment.

Unions urged the trade representative to eliminate the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section from NAFTA.

ISDS creates a process allowing investors and corporations from a foreign country to sue a government if the government passes a law or enacts a regulations that might hurt future profits.

ISDS clauses in other trade agreements allowed Phillip Morris, the international tobacco company, to sue Australia for requiring health warnings on cigarette packages and Dow to sue Quebec after the Canadian province passed a law banning certain lawn pesticides because they were a threat to the environment.

ISDS suits aren’t heard in a court of law; instead, they are heard by an arbitration panel composed of trade attorneys.

Hearings before an ISDS tribunal are held in secret and aren’t subject to appeal.

“Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren last year in a Washington Post op-ed piece criticizing the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Other recommedations from the AFL-CIO  include:

  • Democratize the negotiations process
  • Protect consumers by ensuring that pharmacuetical companies can’t use intellectual property rights to “undermine affordable medicine”
  • Strengthen rules of origin language to maximize benefits for workers, farmers, and NAFTA companies and
  • Add strong environmental rules with swift and certain enforcement.

“If President Donald Trump follows our recommendations—if he renegotiates NAFTA, so it’s a real force for higher wages and broadly shared prosperity—we will help him pass it,” said Tumka. “If he uses renegotiation to further rig the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him with everything we have. And if President Trump breaks his promise and leaves the worst pieces of NAFTA in place, we will never forget it.”

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Unions condemn Trumpcare; Urge health care for all

When the US House of Representatives on May 4 narrowly passed the Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act–also known as Obamacare–unions representing 8.4 million workers issued statements condemning the vote.

Bob Martinez, international president of IAM called the vote, “a blatant attack on working families.”

D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, said that because of the Republican health care proposal, which he called Trumpcare, “millions of hard-working Americans are one step closer to seeing their health care destroyed.”

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, asked rhetorically, “did the Marquis de Sade write (the Republican) health care bill?” She also called for creating a single-payer health care plan that “would provide health care for all.”

Republicans passed their health care plan, which they called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by a vote of 217-213.

Despite heavy pressure from party leaders and the White House, 20 Republican lawmakers defected by voting no on the bill.

AHCA, or Trumpcare as Taylor called it, will now be taken up by the Senate.

Like other critics, unions criticized Trumpcare because it cuts taxes for corporations and the wealthy by $765 billion at the expense of working people’s health care benefits.

To offset the tax cut, Trumpcare slashes Medicaid funding by $880 billion. As a result, millions of  the low-wage workers, nursing home residents, and people with disabilities will lose their Medicaid benefit.

Unions also joined other AHCA critics in condemning the legislation for allowing states to let insurance companies ignore customer protections required by Obamacare.

“They voted to strip basic health care protections from working families and allow insurance companies to sell health care plans that don’t cover essential care or necessary treatment like chemotherapy,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

AHCA also would make it possible for insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing medical conditions by charging them more for health insurance.

A pre-existing condition, according to the United Steelworkers statement on AHCA, could be anything from heartburn to heart disease.

In addition, unions blasted the Republican health care plan for making employer-based health insurance more expensive.

One of Obamacare’s features that unions have long opposed is the 40 percent tax on high quality employer-based health insurance. The tax becomes effective in 2018. AHCA delays its implementation but keeps the tax in place.

Keeping the tax will make health care more expensive for 177 million workers, said UNITE HERE’s Taylor.

There is a misconception about the high quality health care plan tax, which is also known as the Cadillac tax. The misconception is that it only applies to a few high-end health insurance plans.

But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in four employer health insurance plans could be affected by the tax.

Unions also criticized the Republican health care plan as a job killer.

Because of the AHCA, “thousands of members of my union and other health care workers will lose their jobs,” said Shelton.

The New York Times reports that the health care industry is one of the leading industries for job growth.

Since 2014, according to the Times, much of the job growth at hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, and medical laboratories has been spurred by the expansion of Medicaid.

But cutting Medicaid funding by $880 as proposed in AHCA will not only end the expansion, it will cause a contraction of the benefit. Fewer people will receive medical care, and fewer dollars will be spent at local health care providers.

The contraction will lead to layoffs and other job losses.

Some unions that criticized the passage of AHCA said that protecting Obamacare from the ravages of the Republican plan isn’t enough.

“Congress needs to pass a bill that will move America toward health care for all, not the few,” said a statement on the AHCA by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM).

One piece of legislation that if enacted would guarantee health care for all is the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act (HR 676) sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan.

On Wednesday, May 10, members of National Nurse United will be in Washington DC to lobby lawmakers to pass HR 676.

“Nurses understand that we are in a health care crisis that is only going to get worse for our families and communities, and so it is imperative that Congress act now to solve the crisis through the implementation of a single-payer Medicare for All system,” said Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United.

Conyers said that he has seen a surge in public support for a single-payer, Medicare for all system

Gallup, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and other polling organizations have found that there is majority support for Medicare for All in America today,” said Rep. Conyers in a recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press. “Thanks to this groundswell,  single payer is politically achievable.”

More than 100 members of  the US House of Representatives have signed on as co-sponsors of HR 676.

When nurses arrive at Congress on May 10, they will be urging more lawmakers to sign up as co-sponsors and to commit to voting for Medicare for All.

“Health care is a human right, and the way to make that right a reality for everyone in this country is through an expanded and improved Medicare for All system,” said Ross.

Labor Leaders urge members to support May Day actions

Leaders of four large US labor unions urged their members to support the May 1 “Day Without Immigrants” actions taking place in cities and towns across the US.

On May Day immigrants will be participating in strikes, boycotts, and marches to protest the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump administration.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America, Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Peter Knowlton, general president of United Electrical Workers, all signed a statement urging members and local leaders to support the May Day actions.

“We will march and stand with our sister and brother immigrant workers against the terror tactics of the Trump administration,” reads a statement issued by the four labor leaders. “. . . We urge our organizations’ leaders and members to participate in whatever way we can.”

The statement issued by the four union leaders says that immigrants, both those with and without residency documents,” lead hard working and productive lives” and that many are also union members.

These workers have been a target of President Trump since he began his campaign for President in 2015.

Trump, according to the four union leaders, has tried to cast immigrants as rapists and murderers to justify his vilification of them.

This kind of race baiting and immigrant bashing have a long history in the US and are part of “a consistent attempt by business elites to divide working class people in order to advance their pro-corporate agenda.”

“We refuse to go down that road of hatred, resentment, and divisiveness,” reads the statement. “We will march and stand with our sister and brother immigrant workers against the terror tactics of the Trump administration.”

DeMoro, Shelton, Hanley, and Knowlton lead unions that are part of a new Labor for Our Revolution network.

Our Revolution is the grassroots organization that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

More than 1000 local union leaders and members, who are part of the Labor for Our Revolution network, have signed a statement saying that they will support local “Day Without Immigrants” actions.

“It’s gratifying to see that so many members understand the importance of taking a stand with immigrant workers,” said Larry Cohen, Our Revolution board chair and former president of the Communication Workers of America. “It doesn’t matter whether you were born in the US or arrived as an immigrant, May 1 is a time for all workers to come together and fight for our jobs and our living standards.”

Unions oppose Gorsuch nomination

Unions are taking a stand against President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

In letters to lawmakers and messages to members, unions say that Gorsuch’s record as a judge on the US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and his judicial philosophy show that as a Supreme Court Justice, he would put the private interests of corporations and big business ahead of the public interests.

Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, co-presidents of the National Nurses Union, in a letter to US senators, said Judge Gorsuch is “driven by ideology” rather than a devotion to the law.

Gorsuch “has been consistently dismissive of Americans’ rights to meaningful equality and workplace justice” and his record shows that he “promotes business interests at the expense of the average American,” wrote Burger and Ross.

In a separate message to Senate Democrats, NNU urged them to join the Senate’s Democratic Leader Sen. Charles Schumer in filibustering Gorsuch’s nomination.

“We strongly support (Sen. Schumer’s decision to  filibuster) and urge all Senate Democrats to vote against cloture on the floor of the Senate,” said Burger and Ross.

A successful filibuster would raise the number of votes needed to secure Gorsuch’s nomination from 51 to 60.

Dennis Williams, president of the United Autoworkers (UAW) also wrote a letter to senators urging them to reject Gorsuch’s nomination.

In addition to criticizing Judge Gorsuch’s judicial record of supporting business over workers, Williams’ expressed concerns about how Gorsuch’s nomination would affect civil rights and campaign finance cases that come before the Supreme Court.

“Judge Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy and public statements strongly suggest that he would decide cases in a way that eviscerates what remains of our campaign finance laws and further weakens voting rights,” wrote Williams.

Both the UAW and Communication Workers of America (CWA) are urging members to get involved in stopping the Gorsuch nomination.

The UAW in a flyer, urged members to contact their senators to tell them to vote no on the nomination.

The CWA in a e-mail message to members did the same.

In the message, CWA described testimony  that its General Counsel Jody Calemine gave at a hearing on the Gorsuch nomination conducted by the Senate  Judiciary Committee.

In that testimony, Calemine brought the case of Trans Am Trucking, Inc. v. Administrative Review Board to the attention of the committee and the general public.

The case involved a truck driver named Alphonse Maddin, who was fired by his employer Trans Am Trucking.

Maddin was stranded on a highway in subzero weather after the brakes on his truck’s trailer froze. Maddin reported the problem to Trans Am and waited for three hours for help to arrive.

When Maddin began to feel the effects of hypothermia, he became worried that he might freeze to death. With no word from Trans Am on when help would arrive, Maddin unhooked his trailer from the cab and drove himself to safety.

As a result, the company fired him for abandoning the trailer.

Maddin filed a complaint against Trans Am with the US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

The case was heard by an administrative law judge with US Department of Labor who ruled in favor of Maddin and awarded him back pay.

Trans Am appealed the judge’s decision, and the appeal was eventually heard by the US Court of Appeals Tenth District.

A three judge panel of the appeals court voted 2 to 1 in favor of Maddin ruling that Maddin had acted appropriately when he decided to save his own life.

Gorsuch, on the other hand, dissented saying that the company was justified in firing Maddin.

In addition to mobilizing their members to oppose the Gorsuch nomination, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have joined a grassroots coalition of public interest groups called People’s Defense to stop the Gorsuch nomination.

People’s Defense on April 1 held rallies in cities across the US to speak out against the Gorsuch nomination.

At the rally in Cleveland,  SEIU Local 1 Ohio Director Yanela Sims told the audience that the US needs an economy and political system that works for working people; not one that puts the special interest of corporate America above the public interest.

Unions vote no confidence in Southwest Airlines executive leadership

Transportation Workers Union Local 555 on August 3 became the fourth union at Southwest Airlines to express no confidence in the airline’s Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly and Chief Operations Officer Mike Van de Ven and call for a change of leadership at the top.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) was the first union to take a no confidence vote. The SWAPA executive board on August 1 voted 20-0 for a no confidence resolution.

“After years of operational failures and a degradation of our culture that risks slowly eroding our loyal customer base, we must speak up and be catalysts for change,” said Captain Jon Weaks, president of SWAPA, explaining his union’s no confidence vote. “We are faithful to our company and its founding principles, and we feel that our CEO and COO have broken the faith with both.”

That vote was followed by similar actions by Transport Workers Local 556, whose members are Southwest flight attendants, and the Airline Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 11 (AMFA).

“Over the past several years, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly and COO Mike Van de Ven have failed to recognize and adequately fix the operational failures that continue to plague our airline,” said TWU Local 556 president Audrey Stone. “Our flight attendants, along with other front-line employees, end up bearing the brunt of these failures. Management’s failures continue to erode the morale of employees, endangering the famous culture upon which our beloved airline was founded.”

The unions say that despite record profits Kelly and Van de Ven have not made the investments needed to upgrade the Southwest’s crumbling infrastructure such as the company’s threadbare computer system and aging fleet of airplanes.

The result has been a series of gaffes like July’s mammoth computer system shutdown that caused hundreds of flight delays and cancellations that stranded thousands of passengers and ruined their travel plans.

Greg Puriski, president Local 555, whose members are baggage handlers and ground operations workers, said that the computer breakdown was the last straw for a beleaguered workforce who had to clean up the mess caused by Southwest’s system failure.

“After witnessing the recent electronic meltdown that left customers and flight crews stranded in airports (and) our members trying to pick up the pieces of delayed and cancelled flights, we will no longer remain silent but join with SWAPA, AMFA and TWU 556 in declaring our vote of ‘no confidence,'” said Puriski.

Bloomberg reports that  the company’s computer system crashed in July “after an old router and its backup system failed.”

Another Southwest computer crash that stranded thousands of passengers and flight crews occurred in 2015. That one was blamed on “outdated technology.”

Southwest’s computer system isn’t the only thing that’s old and outdated. According to SWAPA, Southwest operates the oldest fleet of airplanes in the airline industry, which also has caused flight delays and cancellations.

The unions say that instead of fixing these problem, Southwest has been using its record profits to buy back stock from investors.

Southwest spent $700 million on stock buybacks in the second quarter of its fiscal year, and $3.1 billion on buybacks during the last three years.

Southwest’s board of directors recently authorized another $2 billion for stock buybacks.

Southwest isn’t alone in spending its profits on buybacks rather than on investing in innovation and employees.

Nick Haneuer writing for the Atlantic reports that between 2004 and 2015, corporations spent $6.9 trillion on stock buybacks, and in the last ten years, corporations on the S&P 500 index have spent 54 percent of their profits on stock buybacks.

“Today, these buybacks drain trillions of dollars of windfall profits out of the real economy and into a paper asset bubble, inflating share prices while producing nothing of tangible value,” writes Haneuer, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

While the buybacks might not do anything to create “tangible value,” they do a lot to boost the compensation of executives such as Kelly and Van de Ven.

Much of Kelly’s and Van de Ven’s compensation is in the form of company stock. When companies buy back their stock from investors, the price of stock increases because there are fewer shares on the market.

While Kelly and Van de Ven have failed to make the capital investments needed to maintain quality service, they’ve also failed to invest in their employees.

Three of the unions, SWAPA, TWU Local 556, and AMFA have been in protracted collective bargaining negotiations with Southwest. Local 556 and SWAPA have been negotiating since 2013 and AMFA since 2012.

Since 2013, Southwest has reported net income of more than $4 billion. Each year since 2013 has been a record year for profits.

Local 556 reports that Southwest’s estimated year-to-date profits for 2016 are $1.379 billion. If Southwest continues at this rate, 2016 profits will be $2.364, another record-breaking profit year.

Despite the record profits, Southwest has been reluctant to agree to fair contracts with the three unions and negotiations have stalled

In a message to its members, Local 556 said that the computer breakdown in July had changed the dynamics of its negotiations with management.

“We have further put management on notice that the nature of these ongoing contract negotiations has changed due to this event,” reads the message. “Excuses given in the past are no longer valid; protections once taken for granted have failed the flight attendants, and that is intolerable. We expect contract language guaranteeing that we will not be abused due to inadequate staffing of reserves, that there will be solutions should there be issues with procuring hotels, and, finally, that our members are in no mood to even consider an Extended Duty Day (a company demand that if implemented would significantly reduce flight attendant’s free time).”

Local 556 members will be holding informational picket lines on August 8 at airports in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Oakland, and Phoenix.

“We’re picketing to show unity and solidarity with our union sisters and brothers,” reads an explanation of the picketing. “It’s an opportunity to have your voice heard and to fight for the contract we deserve.”

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.

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.