GE, unions reach tentative agreement on four-year contract, avoiding possible strike

Monday, June 16th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ General Electric Co. and the two largest labor unions at the company reached tentative agreements on new four-year contracts, hours before the previous contracts were set to expire.

The company and the unions, which could have gone on strike beginning June 26 under the contracts that expired at midnight Sunday, said the proposed agreements would improve wages, pensions and benefits.

Terms of the new contracts with the International Union of Electronic Workers-Communications Workers of America and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America were not released. The contracts would apply to more than 24,000 workers at the two unions and a number of local unions at sites across the country.

Union leaders were to meet Tuesday and Wednesday to review the contract proposals and submit them to union members for ratification votes, which were expected this week and next week.

IEU-CWA represents about 13,000 employees at locations including Louisville, Ky.; Lynn, Mass.; Schenectady, N.Y.; Arkansas City, Kan.; and Waterford, N.Y. Union leaders were to review the contract Wednesday.

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, or UE, represents about 3,000 employees at sites including Erie, Pa., Fort Edward, N.Y., and Ontario, Calif.

Ten local unions will be offered similar contracts.

The IUE-CWA and the UE will recommend approval of the contracts, union leaders said Sunday.

The agreements would cover about 24,400 GE employees who work at plants that make aircraft engines, appliances, locomotives, medical equipment, power turbines and other products.

William J. Conaty, GE's senior vice president for human resources, said the contract talks involved difficult issues, including the sluggish economy and rising health care costs.

Thousands of GE employees walked off the job for two days in January to protest higher health care co-payments that took effect Jan. 1.

The unions, which worked through a coordinated bargaining committee, worried that GE would seek an additional shift of health care costs onto employees in the new contract.

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