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Schenectady-based union local rejects proposed GE contract

Schenectady-based union local rejects proposed GE contract

GE and union leadership evaluating their options
Schenectady-based union local rejects proposed GE contract
General Electric's Schenectady campus is shown in 2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — Unionized General Electric workers have rejected a proposed four-year labor agreement reached with the company last month.

The IUE-CWA members in Schenectady and Lynn, Mass., have both rejected the four-year offer in voting that ended Tuesday, which under union rules appears to be sufficient for the entire national deal to be defeated.

"The members of Local 301 voted to reject the proposed company offer," IUE-CWA Local 301 said in a one-sentence statement posted Tuesday on its website. Schenectady is the only site covered by the proposed contract at which the bulk of workers are in the company's troubled Power business, which has been cutting costs, eliminating jobs and closing facilities worldwide.

Local 301 Business Agent Rob Macherone said the workers found the offer unacceptable.

"The company offer provided more than one Accelerated Cash Payment not adding to our members base pay, reductions in health care services in dental and vision benefits, and reductions in future retire benefits," he said in a statement. "The company was also not willing to renew a pension freeze letter that is set to expire in 2023 which will allow the company to bargain over current workers' pensions. These losses and non-improvements were unacceptable to the membership and we are currently discussing what the next move will be.

"We understand the position GE is in, but our members should not bear this cost of bailing this company out," he added.

In Lynn, Local 201 also rejected the deal, which may doom it. "Per conference board rules this constitutes an IUE-wide rejection of the national contract," Local 201 said on its website. "We are awaiting communication from IUE-CWA for more details and will release a flyer and communications on Facebook and the Website as soon as more information becomes available."

The Lynn plant, which like Schenectady is among GE's oldest, is now part of GE Avation. A local at a GE Aviation site in Erlanger, Kentucky, voted to accept the deal, according to GE. The contract's fate at other locations wasn't available.

The union used a "block" voting system, which means that in the national tally, all unionized workers from Schenectady, Niskayuna (where a small number of workers are represented by Local 301) and Lynn are being counted against the contract, even though some workers within each site supported the deal.

General Electric is evaluating what comes next, with a return to the negotiating table likely at some point.

“Today, the IUE-CWA informed GE that although a majority of its members approved the four-year national labor contract, its Conference Board Rules resulted in the proposed agreement being turned down," the company said in a statement. "We strongly believe the contract is a good package for employees, and a majority approval vote of IUE-CWA membership reflects that. GE and IUE-CWA leaders are evaluating options for moving forward.”

The agreement struck by the company and union leadership and announced June 24 would grant members three wage increases totaling $1.80 per hour over the life of the contract, two accelerated cash payments totaling $3,000, plus a ratification bonus of $1,500.

But rising out-of-pocket health care costs, retiree pensions and job security are also major issues, as GE struggles to right itself from a critical decline in recent years. Many provisions in the proposed contract focused on retraining funding for laid-off workers, voluntary layoff or early retirement incentives and plant closing severance pay.

Schenectady workers made clear at a pre-negotation rally outside the plant gates in April that they're unhappy with the company, which has laid off hundreds in Schenectady during the four years of the previous contract.

The Power business, which makes steam turbines and generators and dominates work at GE's sprawling Schenectady complex, has been among those hardest-hit by changing market conditions.

Eleven unions or locals, representing 6,600 GE workers across the country, have voted, though not all results are known. The current contract expired June 23, but both sides announced the next day that they had a tentative deal, subject to member ratification.

The IUE-CWA national headquarters in Dayton, Ohio, did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

GE has about 4,000 employees in the Capital Region, including at the downtown manufacturing complex and at its Global Research headquarters in Niskayuna. At one time, though, the company employed 10 times that number in the city, where it was founded in 1892.

A few hundred IUE-CWA members work at the Schenectady campus and a smaller number in Niskayuna.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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