- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) Thousands of General Electric Co. employees vow to strike soon to protest rising health insurance payments. It would be the conglomerate's first national strike in more than 30 years.
GE said the strike would involve about 17,500 employees at the company's manufacturing plants. Union officials say the strike could involve at least 20,000 workers.
Employees are protesting GE's decision to increase co-payments for health insurance at the start of this year.
GE says the increases would cost the average employee about $200 a year and follow sharply rising health care costs.
The last national strike by GE employees was in 1969, when workers were off the job for about 14 weeks. This time, the strike is expected to be much shorter.
"I think we're talking about a strike of a relatively short duration I'd say a week or less," said Douglas Meyer, research director for the International Union of Electronic Workers-Communication Workers of America, which represents about 18,000 GE employees and retirees affected by the health care issue.
Mr. Meyer said he expects the strike to begin later this month or in early February.
"It is definitely going to occur in the next several weeks," he said.
Union officials passed a resolution last month calling for a strike after Jan. 1.
Manufacturing plants that would be affected by the strike include those in Lynn, Mass.; Erie, Pa.; Louisville, Ky.; Schenectady, N.Y.; and Fort Edward, N.Y.
GE, based in Fairfield, Conn., also makes jet engines and power turbines. It also owns the NBC television network.
GE and the unions are not negotiating to resolve the issue. Union officials say the strike targets negotiations planned this spring for a new contract under which GE will seek additional increases in the amount employees pay for health insurance.
Company officials say GE will weather the strike, which would affect about 6 percent of its global work force of 310,000.
Health care costs at GE and many other companies have soared. GE's health care costs have gone up by more than 40 percent since 1999, from $965 million to $1.4 billion last year, officials say.
"We've seen dramatic increases, with the increases expected to continue for the foreseeable future," Mr. Sheffer said.
GE has pledged not to increase co-payments in the new contract for most medical services, he said.
Union officials said the increase amounts to a shift of about $30 million from the company to workers, and that older workers will be hit especially hard because they rely on prescription drugs and other medical services.
"Who is in a better position to bear the cost? Is it a $300 billion corporation or some hourly worker having enough difficulty making ends meet from week to week?" asked Stephen Tormey, secretary of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, which represents about 5,000 GE employees.
Union officials also say that GE profits substantially from rising health care costs as a maker of medical equipment and a provider of insurance through its finance arm.

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