GE national union approves two-year deal with company for pay increase; local chapter votes against contract

GE IUE-CWA Local 301 Union Hall business agent Chris DePaolo opens up a rally of members in front of General Electric's main gate entrance to GE in Schenectady on Oct. 25, 2022. IUE-CWA president Carl Kennebrew stands right.

GE IUE-CWA Local 301 Union Hall business agent Chris DePaolo opens up a rally of members in front of General Electric’s main gate entrance to GE in Schenectady on Oct. 25, 2022. IUE-CWA president Carl Kennebrew stands right.

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SCHENECTADY — The union representing the largest number of General Electric workers ratified a contract with the company Tuesday that would give workers a 12% pay increase.

Local GE employees with IUE-CWA Local 301 rejected the contract. However, because the contract passed at the national level it will go into effect.

The main issue at the Schenectady chapter, representing around 600 workers, is that the pay increases approved in the contract would disproportionately affect some workers locally.

“We have some local issues here that we’re still trying to address,” said Chris DePaolo, the business agent for IUE-CWA Local 301. “We had some confusion down here at 301. We were trying to put together another proposal that addresses some of our competitive-wage issues.”

Right now, there is a $10-per-hour pay difference between competitive-wage and legacy employees. 

Currently, 58% of the union members are on the competitive-wage track, which DePaolo said was instituted 12 years ago to keep employees in Schenectady. 

Under the national contract, which would provide a 6% wage increase in 2023 and then another 6% bump in 2024, that pay gap would increase to closer to a $12-per-hour difference between the two employee groups, DePaolo said. 

However, DePaolo said, he’s trying to figure out a way to distribute the wage increase to close the pay gap.

It’s an action that DePaolo said has been met with resistance by local members.

“There’s a lot of frustration in our local and we don’t like to divide, so we’d like to get something out to our membership so they can vote on it, but I just want to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” he said. 

He said there were many proposals out there, including one to give a greater-percentage increase to the employees that make less and smaller increase to the workers that make more. 

“Which I thought would be compassionate through our union if we could get it passed but, like I said, any empathy is harder than I thought,” he said.

DePaolo said he is working on an agreement to present to the local union to vote on that would provide a way to increase union workers’ pay and also close the gap between competitive-wage workers and legacy employees.

Besides the pay increase issue, locally, DePaolo said, the contract seems fair. 

On top of the wage raise, the contract includes a successorship clause that “ensures the preservation of these hard fought gains, as well as union recognition and rights, at the spin-off companies,” according to a press release from the union. 

In late 2021, GE announced the company would be splitting into three separate entities.

The GE Power business, which has a major presence in Schenectady, will be called GE Vernova and also consists of GE Renewable Energy, GE Digital and GE Energy Financial Services. It is expected to be spun off in early 2024 and its headquarters will move from Schenectady to Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to published reports. 

The aviation portion of GE will become GE Aerospace and the health care portion of the company was spun off into GE HealthCare. 

The ratified contract also ensures the same benefits from the union’s prior contract. 

Union Conference Board Chairperson Jerry Carney called the ratification of the contract a “major accomplishment.”

“We have secured greater job security for our members, and this agreement provides peace of mind as General Electric undergoes its split into … separate entities,” Carney said. 

GE head of North American labor relations Bill Bussa, in a statement, cited the wages and benefits in the plan.

“This agreement provides our employees with wage increases along with competitive benefits to ensure we continue to attract and retain top talent, while providing clarity and a stable environment for the company as we approach the planned separation of GE Aerospace and GE Vernova,” Bussa’s statement read.

The extension takes effect July 1 and continues through June 22, 2025, according to the release. 

In October 2022, hundreds union members from all over the country protested in front of the company’s Schenectady plant. Local workers and others from as far away as Kansas and Kentucky participated in the rally. 

“Without our collective efforts, we couldn’t have achieved this success,” Carney, the union leader, said Wednesday. “It’s important to take a moment to celebrate this victory, but we must also remain committed to organizing and mobilizing for further improvements in the near future.”

However, there is still work to be done, according to the letter given to all union members.

In the letter, the Conference Board said the union still wants to negotiate cost of living adjustment language and make changes to the health care annual pay table in order to ensure that when the gradual wage increases go into effect it doesn’t trigger increased costs in health care. 

“Since it was an extension and those terms could not be opened, we made those arguments to bring far more value onto the wage package that the company was reluctant to move on – resulting in the union adding value even after GE had told us that there was no more room,” the letter states. 

The letter also encourages union members to continue to build its mobilization structure and power on the shop floor.” 

“That power is what has secured this historic extension and it’s what will enable us to continue to fight for and win the contract our membership deserves in 2025,” the letter states. 

While the contract extension meets the wage increases and health care benefits union members wanted, it doesn’t state anything regarding other demands the union had. Those demands included: 

  • For GE to invest $5 billion over the next five years into recently closed facilities and add thousands of jobs to those facilities and the ones still left open.
  • To bring back all U.S. military aviation production from overseas, as well as 70% of GE industrial work that has been sent overseas over the last five years.
  • Enable shareholders to vote on GE splitting into three companies and add elected worker representatives to the company’s board of directors.
  • To create supplier parks within converted GE facilities to establish factories that would be able to minimize supply chain issues, “building up an American offshore wind power supply chain on our shores, including Schenectady, New York – the original Electric City.”

DePaolo wouldn’t comment on those other demands. 

“I think we’re working on bringing more jobs to Schenectady but I really don’t want to talk too much on it,” he said.

A GE spokesperson declined to comment on specific details of negotiations with the union. However, company officials said GE “remains committed to U.S. manufacturing and ensuring a strong future for sites including Schenectady.” 

In March, the company announced plans to invest more than $450 million into the company’s existing U.S. facilities, including $11 million in Schenectady.

The company said it continues to hire for open positions in production and skilled labor at the Schenectady facility.

“Lastly, our commitment to New York State continues: In January 2023, GE announced it has submitted a plan to construct two new manufacturing facilities in New York if it wins a sufficient volume of orders from customers in the State’s ongoing solicitation for up to 4.6 GW of offshore wind – furthering our legacy in New York,” the company said.

Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reach at [email protected]

By Shenandoah Briere

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