GE, union talks in final stage as workers protest

June 25, 2000 ( - Contract talks between General Electric and 14 unions representing some 38,000 GE workers went down to the wire Sunday night, with apparent agreement reached on some health benefits but the issue of pension benefits still wide open.

The unions told the Associated Press Sunday that if an agreement isn’t reached by midnight, they will notify the company of their intention to call for a strike as early as July 8. GE has not had a nationwide strike since 1969.

Friday, hundreds of union members gathered outside General Electric Manhattan office in support of the collective bargaining committee. The protecters demanded better job security, improved pension plans and no rollbacks in health benefits.

Flooding the street with yellow balloons, the union members criticized GE for taking jobs overseas, increasing workers’ co-payment for medical visits and sitting on an enormous $50 billion pension fund, while keeping pension benefits meager.

“They’ve got more money than they ever had and they just don’t want to share any of it,” said Terry Elfers, 55, who has been with GE for 22 years and who negotiated four contracts. Elfers said that job security was the workers’ “number one concern.” “Pension is number two,” he added.

“Once you retire, that’s it,” said Lauren Asplen spokesperson for the International Union of Electronic Workers (IUE). “Pensions are extremely low. Many people get $700 a month.”

“When you take the size and the wealth of this company, it’s just outrageous,” Asplen said.

“We’re confident that we will reach a contract that is good for our employees and that retains the competitiveness of our businesses,” GE spokesman Gary Sheffer told He declined to comment on the details of negotiations.

Sheffer said that since the pension plan depends on the number of years a person has worked for the company and his or her salary, “there is no one payment.”

“Some people make much more than $700 a month,” he said.

GE’s obligation to retirees is $25 billion, Sheffer said. Meanwhile, GE pension fund assets stand at $50 billion.

The unions claim that $25 billion surplus could be used to improve the pension plan and benefits. “They claimed $1.4 billion profit from this fund,” said Asplen. “They are just sitting on this money and sucking up the profit.”

“Our pension plan is competitive or better than the one our competitors offer,” said Sheffer.

– Katya Kazakina