GE Opens National Contract Talks
NEW YORK (AP) _ Leaders of two unions representing 55,000 employees of General Electric Co. say their highest priority in negotiating new contracts will be improving job security.
As bargaining opened Tuesday, GE’s chief negotiator, William Angell, said the talks would focus on the future competitiveness of the company’s diverse businesses.
The current three-year contracts expire at midnight on June 30.
In the interim, separate bargaining sessions will be held thrice-weekly with the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers (IUE) and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), negotiators said.
Neither side presented a wage demand at the opening session.
″I think this round of negotiations will be particularly difficult,″ said Boris Block, the chief UE negotiator. ″Too many people are being thrown out of jobs they’ve held their entire lives.″
Block said GE has laid off more than 100,000 employees since 1981 through plant closures and consolidation, while profits increased by 26 percent - to $9.1 billion - and net profits by almost 40 percent.
IUE President William Bywater, who represents 47,300 of the workers, said GE could afford to save jobs for younger workers, making early retirement easier and improving pension benefits.
″With assets of almost $11.5 billion - while less than half a billion in benefits trickled out - the GE pension fund is an Incredible Hulk,″ he said. ″It should be given good work to do.″
Major GE locations covered by the contract include plants in Lynn and Pittsfield, Mass.; Syracuse and Schenectady, N.Y.; Louisville, Ky; Cleveland; and Fort Wayne, Ind., GE officials said.
General Electric, which has manufacturing or service operations in all 50 states, signed its first national union contract in 1938. Since then, it has been hit by three strikes - for a 9-week UE walkout in 1946, a 3-week IUE stoppage in 1960, and a 14-week strike by most unionized employees in 1969-70.
In addition to the two nationally negotiated contracts, GE will begin local bargaining soon with 10 other unions on more than 100 contracts covering 23,600 employees.