After a nationwide march, three weeks of negotiations and one week of voting, members of General Electric’s two largest unions finally have a new contract.
The four-year job package was officially ratified Tuesday, after the memberships of local unions in Schenectady; Lynn, Massachusetts; and Louisville, Kentucky voted in favor of the contract. Local unions in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Utah and Wisconsin voted Friday and throughout the weekend in favor of the contract. Overall, the contract covers 16,500 workers across the country.
The final vote in Schenectady came to 845-430 in favor of the contract. More than 1,400 hourly workers at the company’s Schenectady campus and global research center in Niskayuna who are members of the IUE-CWA Local 301 were eligible to vote.
“This ‘yes’ vote is good news for GE, the unions, our employees and ultimately, our customers,” said GE Vice President Greg Capito in a news release issued Tuesday night. “We are gratified that our represented employees have solidly backed this contract that provides an excellent GE job package, while helping the company to continue to succeed.”
Union leadership converged on New York City in early June to meet with GE officials for contract negotiations. After three weeks at the bargaining table, the national leaders of GE’s two largest unions — the IUE-CWA and the United, Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers — reached a tentative agreement with the company on a new labor contract that would improve wages and pensions but increase health care costs and eliminate certain retiree health benefits.
The new contract gives employees about $15,500 in additional compensation over the next four years through a mix of accelerated cash payments, wage increases and cost-of-living adjustments. Members of any local union that voted in favor of the contract will also receive a $2,000 bonus.
“It passed two-to-one, but we had 400 people who thought the contract proposal was inadequate, and so that sends a message to us,” said Brian Sullivan, business agent for the Local 301. “One of the things they don’t like is these accelerated cash payments, which do nothing to raise your base pay. But they basically held us hostage for that $2,000 bonus.”
Pension improvements were a major win, though, Sullivan said last week. For those on the guaranteed pension plan, monthly benefits will rise across the board by $1 per year of pension benefit service. Longtime employees will see their regular pensions rise, on average, by 15.9 percent.
As they had anticipated, hourly workers who retire under the new contract will no longer be eligible for company-paid retiree health benefits designed to supplement Medicare once they reach age 65.
GE eliminated these benefits in January for former salaried employees, instead offering them access to a private health exchange and $1,000 to shop for supplemental coverage themselves. The company will do the same for hourly employees under the terms of the new contract.
Deductibles and co-insurance won’t rise under the contract, but payroll contributions will increase starting in 2017. For one-person coverage, the amount taken out of an employee’s paycheck for health insurance would rise from $23.56 to $26.87 in 2017, $30.60 in 2018 and $34.79 in 2019. For two-person coverage, weekly contributions would rise from $47.12 to $69.60 by 2019. For three-person coverage, weekly contributions would rise from $58.91 to $86.99 by 2019.
Terms of the new contracts have been offered to the UAW, IAM, IBEW and other unions that have local contracts with GE. Agreements have been ratified by many of their local units already, GE said.
Reach Gazette reporter Bethany Bump at 395-3107, [email protected] or @BethanyBump on Twitter.