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GE, coalition settle despite union split.

"Developments in Industrial Relations" is prepared by George Ruben of the Division of Developments in Labor-Management Relations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and is largely based on information from secondary sources. GE, coalition settle despite union split

The General Electric Co. (GE) and a coalition of unions settled peacefully on new 3-year contracts, but the terms drew strong criticism from some union officials before they were approved by rank-and-file members. This was particularly true within the Electronic Workers, whose negotiating committee and a panel of local union officials recommended that rank-and-file members reject the accord, although union president William H. Bywater had backed it. The terms were also supported by the steering committee of the Coordinated Bargaining Committee, the umbrella organization of the 12 unions that bargain with GE. Within the Electronic Workers, the union representing the largest number of employees in the bargaining with GE, the final tally was 33,378.5 in favor of the agreement, and 6,785.5 against.

The dissatisfaction with the terms apparently focused on the size of the wage gains and on the adequacy of provisions for increasing employee job security. Ultimately, it appeared that members of the various unions approved the terms simply because there was no widespread enthusiasm to initiate a national strike, which would have been the first at GE since 1969. To some extent, strikes are difficult to mount against GE because of the large number of unions involved.

The settlement, which came on June 26, the expiration date of the 1985 agreements, provides for an immediate wage increase of 2.5 percent, followed by 1.5-percent increases in June of 1989 and 1990. The workers also gained two lump-sum payments: $165 payable immediately and $900 payable in June 1989. The provision for automatic semiannual cost-of-living pay reviews was continued at the rate of I cent an hour for each 0.15-per-cent increase in the BLS Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). According to the company, the guaranteed wage increases and cost-of-living adjustments-assuming a 4.5-percent increase in the CPI-W-will raise average pay to $13.40 an hour.

Under the 1985 contracts, employees received two 3-percent general wage increases plus special adjustments to those in upper pay grades; one lump-sum payment equal to 3 percent of the employee's hourly pay rate multiplied by 2,080 hours; and cost-of-living adjustments totaling 43 cents an hour.

The accords also provide for:

* A special early retirement benefit for 25-year employees affected by permanent job loss. This benefit consists of the employee's normal lifetime pension and two supplements ($9 a month for each year of credited service and a flat $200 a month) that continue until age 62.

* A $7,500 retirement payment to employees terminated because of the discontinuance of a product line, work transfer, or automation. (Previously, the payment was $5,000 and applied only when jobs were lost because of transfers and automation).

* Expansion of the preferential hiring provision to permit laid-off workers to apply for jobs for up to 3 years at all of GE'S domestic plants (previously, they could apply for jobs for up to I year within 250 miles of their former job). Affected employees are now eligible for company payment of moving expenses up to $1,500, and for extension of the wage-rate guarantee to 52 weeks (previously 39 weeks).

* Retraining assistance of $5,000 over 3 years for laid-off workers, up from $3,000 over 2 years.

Changed pension provisions include increases in the range of minimum rates to $17-$23.50 a month (from $16-$22), varying with the employee's hourly pay rate, for each year of credited service effective July 1, 1988. The rate will rise to $18 -$25 on January 1, 1990. Improvements were made in the alternate "formula" pension which applies if it results in a higher benefit for a retiree. In another pension change, the employees' contribution was reduced to 3 percent of earnings in excess of $25,000 a year, instead of $14,000.

Other terms included $750,000 lifetime major medical coverage per person (formerly $500,000); $275 a week sickness and accident benefits (formerly $250); and $40,000 minimum life insurance coverage (formerly $35,000).

Overall, the settlements covered nearly 70,000 employees, including 40,000 represented by the Electronic Workers and 6,300 represented by the United Electrical Workers, the two unions that negotiate with GE on a national basis. Following past practice, similar terms werenegotiated by the other unions, which bargain with the company on a plant-by-plant basis.

A change beneficial to GE is a new requirement that some employees contribute toward the cost of medical insurance. The contribution schedule ranges from $1 a week for workers with annual straight-time earnings of $25,000-$37,499 to $5 a week for those earning $100,000 or more. Other changes include lengthening the pay progression schedule for new employees and reducing the 10-percent shift differential to 60 cents an hour during the first 2-1/2 years on the job.
COPYRIGHT 1988 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Ruben, George
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Sep 1, 1988
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