MAY 31 DAY OF ACTION
At its May 16-17 meeting, the UE General Executive Board adopted a “Statement of Solidarity” with Local 506 that called for support from all UE locals, starting with a day of action on May 31 in all three UE regions. In the Northeast Region, dozens of demonstrators rallied at GE’s corporate headquarters in Fairfield, CT. Petitions with more than 10,000 signatures were presented to a GE representative outside the guarded entrance, along with a “Keep It Made in Erie” T-shirt for GE CEO Jeff Immelt. Participants came from UE Locals 203, 243, 274, 279, four sub-locals of Local 222, and included a Local 332 contingent who arrived by motorcycle from the GE plant in Fort Edward, NY. UE Local 506 members Lee Singleton and Terry Gigax came from Erie to help lead the Fairfield picket, and leaders of several UE locals spoke, as did Director of Organization Bob Kingsley and Northeast Region President Peter Knowlton.
Also on May 31, 40 people rallied at the headquarters of GE Transportation in Downtown Chicago, including members of Local 896, 1103, 1166, 1177, Warehouse Workers for Justice, Chicago Teachers Union, Workers United and Jobs with Justice. Two Local 506 members, Bill Bane and Joe Bradney participated, as did UE Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker. A delegation of four went inside and met with a human resources manager and delivered petitions with thousands of signatures.
The Day of Action in Erie was three actions, as members participated in plant gate shift rallies at 7:00 a.m., 1:30 and 3:00 p.m. Combined turnout for the three events was in the thousands. GE workers were joined by members of other UE locals and other unions, and the rallies were chaired by Eastern Region President Deb Gornall. “We need to tell this company, ‘You stole our work, bring it back!” UE General President Bruce Klipple told members, and he added, “We’re in the fight of our lives, and your national union will do whatever is needed to help you.”
Gene Elk blasted the company’s illegal movement work to Texas before giving the union notice, and for showing no interest at the bargaining table in saving jobs. “We’ve met with them 10 times now, and we’ve wasted time” discussing such things as the attendance policy, even though the company admits that if it got the changes it wants in attendance rules, it would save no jobs.
“Every day we’re in negotiations we ask them how we’re going to save jobs,” Elk continued. “And this company has not put forward a proposal to save even a single job.” Elk said the union suspects that the company would try to squeeze union members and take back the wage increase that is due on June 24. He asked members for their answer to that, and each time the crowd roared, “No!”
Local 506 President Scott Duke said “The community has embraced this local like I’ve never seen before. When I walk in a store with a UE shirt on, strangers come up and tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Thank you, we’re with you.’” Duke added, “Our proposal is to keep these 950 jobs. That’s our proposal! Anything else ain’t gonna happen. Wage freeze? Not going to happen. We earned and fought for those wages. They’re union wages.”
In addition to its efforts in the community, that workplace and at the bargaining table, the union has taken legal action against GE’s attack on jobs. By transferring work prior to giving the union notice and the opportunity to bargain, says UE General Counsel Joseph Cohen, “The company has violated both the National Labor Relations Act and the contract.” So in addition to grievances filed by the local, the national union has filed unfair labor practice charges. “We feel like we have pretty strong evidence,” says Cohen, “but our optimism has to be cautious because history as shown us that the National Labor Relations Board and the federal courts are not exactly friends to workers.” Three Local 506 divisional chief stewards – Scott Slawson, Bob Herrick, and Giovanni Caputo – have given affidavits to the NLRB detailing the company’s movement of jobs, and Gene Elk has also given an affidavit. “We’ve submitted several position statements and we continue to present the labor board with evidence as they conduct their investigation,” Cohen added. The union is asking the NLRB to seek an injunction against GE, under Section 10(j) of the labor act, because the illegal movement of work has placed the union at an unfair bargaining disadvantage. “We’ve been put in a position where not only do we have to negotiate to try to save jobs six months from now, but we have to negotiate to try to save jobs that have already left. That’s bad faith bargaining by the company,” Cohen concluded.