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News :: Labor : Social Welfare
Local 201 members meet to oppose cuts in GE health care benefits
25 Jan 2007
Lynn, MA – With less than four months before the start of national GE contract negotiations, a top union negotiator told almost 300 GE's River Works union members and retirees that there is no good economic reason for GE to shift its medical costs to employees.

Steve Tormey, from the United Electrical Workers Union, spoke with IUE-CWA Local 201 members about GE's real health care costs and why it is important to oppose any cuts in health care benefits.
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Speaking at Lynn's Connery Post 6 on January 23, United Electrical Worker's Stephen Tormey said, "GE's insurance cost increases have actually been below national averages. More importantly, as a percent of both the company's total revenue and profits, its costs have remained essentially unchanged." Tormey is the Secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board and one of eight top leaders of the Coordinated Bargaining Committee that involves than 14 international unions.

"Despite continuing record profits, GE is trying to create an atmosphere of inevitability about the need for savings on its medical costs for both active and retired employees," said Tormey after directly quoting several senior GE managers. "It's especially ironic given that in just the last month the company had the cash to spend almost $15 billion on acquiring three new companies!"

GE announced on January 19 that its full-year earnings from continuing operations were a record $20.7 billion, up 11 percent from 2005. National contract negotiations with GE are expected to begin in early May. The current GE national union agreements covering about 20,000 workers expires on June 17, 2007. It also indirectly impacts tens of thousands of retirees, non-union workers and lower level managers.

"Everyone – current members, pre-age 65 retirees, and post-age 65 retirees – should be prepared for an attack," added Tormey. "It's imperative that we educate our fellow members about the company's faulty assumptions. But we won't win by being right or having the best argument. The only way to fight back with GE is to get more members involved in the contract campaign and united behind our union leaders at the bargaining table."

Support from the community will also be essential for a successful contract campaign. "If we let large corporations like GE get away with passing on their costs to employees or cutting benefits to "save" money, then they lose their incentive to work for meaningful reforms that are needed to hold down costs and improve access to high quality care for everyone," said Leslie Greenberg who chairs the Lynn Health Task Force. "By resisting GE's health care concessions, GE workers and your union are making an important contribution to the reform movement. And by taking a stand, you are forcing GE to be part of the solution!"

The meeting was also attended by representatives from Jobs with Justice, a coalition of labor and community groups that has often helped unions oppose insurance concessions.

"Over the years, our members have made sacrifices in wages and other contract areas to maintain decent medical benefits," said Local 201 Business Agent Ric Casilli. "Even so, our costs have steadily been rising. Currently the average member with a family of four pays an estimated $1,100 annually for medical coverage and $360 for prescriptions. Post-65 age retirees and their spouses are burdened with average costs of $4,632 annually – a huge hardship because there is no cost of living increase in their monthly pensions." Casilli is also a member of the IUE-CWA National Bargaining Committee.

In January 2005, GE changed its medical plan for managers, making all newly hired managers pay for all of their pre-age 65 insurance coverage once they retire and ending its post-age 65 Medicare supplemental insurance completely.

A recent survey of GE union members showed that preserving medical coverage was members' number one priority. Members walked out nationwide for two-days in January 2003 to stop GE from raising premiums.

IUE-CWA Local 201 unites more than 2,400 manufacturing and other workers on the North Shore for the good jobs that our communities need.

Additional pictures from the January 23 membership meeting may be viewed at: http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AZM2Thu0atFEw0
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Steve Tormey, United Electrical Workers Union
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See also:
http://www.local201iuecwa.org
http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AZM2Thu0atFEw0

This work is in the public domain.
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