|GE NATIONAL CONTRACT 2015
By Business Agent Ric Casilli
(Member of IUE-CWA GE National Negotiating Committee)
We are now less than one year from the opening of national negotiations in New York City with General Electric.
Our veteran GE members need to talk to our newer members about the
mportance of this Contract and the need to stay informed and involved.
KEY LOCAL 201 CONTRACT 2015 ISSUES
Local 201, per usual, will be doing a Membership Contract Survey later this year to establish our members priorities. However, there has been a remarkable consistency over the years as to our members’ priorities. With the current demographics of age and service at the GE River Works, I would anticipate there to be little change.
It is highly likely that close to 50% of our current workforce will retire under the 2015 Contract!! This seems incredible but the big GE “hiring class” years of 1978 to 1982 will be all hitting the magical 60 year old mark, where one can take an unreduced pension with supplements and pre-65 health care. The massive membership turnover that has been occurring will continue.
EXPECT ATTACK ON POST-65 MEDICAL & RETIREE LIFE INSURANCE
We all have heard by now about GE’s September 24, 2012 announcement cancelling retiree life insurance and post-65 health benefits for all salaried employees. Post-65 Retiree Health Care Benefits are cancelled if you have not attained age 65, retired, and enrolled in these plans on or before January 1, 2015. Retiree Life Insurance will not be offered if you are not retired by January 1, 2015. This is the plan that Local 201, the IUE-CWA Conference Board, a former corporate GE Benefits specialist and even Former Chief GE Contract Negotiator Dennis Rocheleau has vehemently attacked as being wrong. Now in September of 2014 – GE has announced to those salaried members over 65, retired and on the post-65 plans that GE intends to eliminate those plans for them too and provide them with a $1,000 HRA. So, their plans are getting worse. If GE does not rescind these ill advised policies before January 1, 2015 – expect GE to come to the negotiating table with similar plans for union hourly and union salaried with a different effective date. This needs to be rejected at all costs. Ironically if GE got this in Contract 2015, they will actually be discouraging our older so called “legacy” members from actually retiring contrary to what recent GE seems to want.
PENSION ISSUES AND
PRE-65 RETIREE HEALTH CARE
What these Local 201 demographics mean is that the traditional contract priorities of Local 201, in my opinion, will even become more important and more urgent for members. I would be shocked if membership surveys do not again demonstrate that the top priority is to be decent Pension improvements in the regular pension, pension supplements, the guaranteed tables, and survivorship options with a strong Pension Update formula.
What is also means is that the cost and benefit levels of pre-65 health care insurance shall be extremely important for many members reviewing any Contract offer. Members should be aware, that the GE health insurance plan you are under as an active employee are the same plan you will be under if you retire until age 65. Any changes in Contract 2015 to the medical plan will likely apply to previously retired members until age 65.
The new GE (2012) non-union salaried health care plans (GE Health Choice) we got jammed down our throats (slightly positively modified from the management plan) last Contract (2011) has comes nowhere near “passing the mustard” and its impact on our active members has been horrible enough but on pre-65 retirees it has been worse. They get the premium increases without wage or pension increases. They also do not have the benefit of pre-tax contributions or medical flexible spending accounts to mitigate the effects of the high deductable consumer driven plan.
Any company proposals to worsen any further the GE health care “Choice” plan is going to run into a major opposition headwind from the massive number of members about to hit 60 considering retirement on fixed incomes, along of course with the active current employees who would be saddled with it for years.
Union proposals to address this issue of medical cost increases for active members and pre- 65 retirees will be certainly back on the table in 2015 heading for a direct crash with GE’s high employee premium and deductable so called “Health Care Choice” Plans.
Younger Members’ Concerns
(Wages, Medical & NSD)
Local 201 GE members under 50 years old represent about 25% of the
Workforce. Of course, Wages will be one of their top concerns but that shall
dovetail with concerns about any GE Medical plan extreme cost increases cutting into these wages while trying to buy a house, pay a mortgage and/or raise a family. In addition to decent having decent general percentage wage increases with an improved COLA clause as protection from inflation, the younger members need the $1.00 per hour Night Shift Differential (NSD) for one’s first 5 years raised up more. In Contract 2007, the Unions were able to drive it up from $.60 to a $1.00 led by Local 201 young members' shop floor petition campaign. The value of the NSB for younger members has been hurt by over the years by inflation.
(SERO, SVLB, & SRB = SOME JOB SECURITY)
In addition, the Special Early Retirement Options (SERO’s), the Special Voluntary Layoff Bonus (SVLB) and the Special Retirement Bonus(SRB) are of extreme importance for younger members- not for them to retire under, as of course, they do not have the required age and service. The Bonuses Programs need to be increased. The SERO and SERO 30 programs were gutted in the 2011 Contract despite our opposition. The Company stripped most of the benefits from those programs in most circumstances, cutting down the number of members that opt to retire under them saving younger workers jobs. They were the best protection from being faced with a forced layoff to the street as they minimized that eventuality. It allowed an older worker (55-59) or long service worker (over 30 years) to choose retirement with added money and benefits, and save the job of the younger worker. Paradoxically, the Bonus Programs and former SERO/SERO 30 program are even more important for younger members then they are for the older member. It gives them at least some Job Security!!!!!
Post- 65 Retiree issues and New Hire Benefits
Traditionally, Local 201 members have always stood up for those that went before us and those that are coming after us. The Unions were able to win a real pension increase for retirees in the 2007 Contract and will be pressing for another one. The one time 13th pension check won in 2011 Contract is not adequate and it does not help the ones most in need. The longer one is retired on a fixed income, the worse one’s financial situation is with rising Medicare and GE post-65 health plan costs and with no cost of living protection embedded in the pension plan. Local 201 members have always showed their support for Local 201 retirees both in the generous donations to the 201 Retirees Councils and their support at their rallies. Members know the retirees fought for what benefits we enjoy today
On the other end of the age scale, Local 201 members want to leave behind
good jobs and benefits for those coming after us, including our children
and younger community members. This caring for others is deep rooted in the institutions of unions – protect your brother and sisters who will come
after us. In the 2007 Contract, this became a contentious issue with the Unions attempting to fight off major takeaways for new hires after Jan 1, 2008.GE had previously stripped non-union salaried members hired after Jan. 1 2005 of rights and benefits in 7 areas – such as raising the unreduced pension retirement age to 65 from 60, eliminating their pension supplements, eliminating their post 65 insurances, making them pay 100% for pre-65 medical insurances and hits in 3 other areas. The Unions fought back
against a plan nicknamed by union leaders “The Work until You Die Plan” and beat back 4 2/3’s of the 7 attacks from hitting union January 1, 2008 new hires. But in 2011 GE came back with a vengeance and with a “new hire benefit package” for those hired January 1, 2012 which increased their pre-65 retiree medical and dental costs, and eliminated their rights to the defined pension plan, and any disability pension or life insurance. Now, GE has even renamed the GE Savings and Security Plan the Retirement Savings Plan (RSP). This is a not so subtle way of getting us conditioned that this is going to eventually replace the GE Pension Plan for all GE workers (Company intent in 2019). Our members hired after January 1. 2012 only have the RSP and no regular defined benefit Pension Plan. This RSP plan needs improvements especially for those new hires. Basically, GE got everything they wanted from new hires and now their focus has shifted in 2015 to getting at the members still on legacy benefits.
Local 201 GE members should now begin preparing for really tough
2015 Contract negotiations.
Forecast of an extremely tough 2015 negotiations again
Veteran 201 Members need to talk to Younger Members
50 % of Local 201 Members may retire under 2015 Contract………..Pensions, Health Care Costs, Pension Update & Supplements, Post -65 and life insurance are critical issues
Already Weak GE Medical “Choice” plans getting any worse will hurt younger and older members, especially all 60-65 old members retired now or retiring under 2015 contract
25 % of Local 201 Members are 49 years old or younger……..Wages, Health Plan Costs, NSB &
Job Security important issues (need SERO & Retirement Bonus Programs to protect their future jobs)
Post 65 Retirees (pension increase/medical cost relief) and New Hires face tough situation in Contract 2015. Local 201 cares about those that went before us and those that will come after us.
Note: I will be printing, in the near future, a series of more specific articles on different important contract demand issues to watch carefully.