General Electric union workers rally for higher wages, benefits - WDRB 41 Louisville News

General Electric union workers rally for higher wages, benefits ahead of contract negotiations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Hundreds of General Electric union workers chanted in unison Saturday afternoon.

“What do we want? Fair contracts! When do we want it? Now!”

While wearing red T-shirts that said “Our Labor Built GE” many workers carried signs high in the air as they marched. Workers say the rally was a chance to show solidarity and unity ahead of national negotiations for a new labor contract.

“We just want enough to maintain a decent livelihood to maintain our families,” said Dana Crittendon, president of IUE-CWA Local 83761 in Louisville.

Contract talks begin June 1 in New York and take place every four years. Crittendon says he will negotiate in good faith.

“We understand the concept of business, running a business, being competitive, things of that nature, but when you're dealing with a company that's profitable … they can share some of the wealth,” Crittendon said.

David Leppo, a GE union employee in Florida, came all the way to Louisville to participate in the rally. He said union workers gave up concessions during the last contract negotiations to avoid layoffs.

“We have given so much now that we feel we cannot give anymore,” Leppo said.

Like many of the workers, he wants higher wages and most importantly decent benefits.

“The healthcare we took a big hit on. It just costs so much money out of pocket now than it did before."

Together, GE and its unions have successfully negotiated 13 national contracts.

“It's a balancing act. We have to have good pay and balances for our employees, but we also have to be able to compete in a very competitive appliance industry,” said Kim Freeman, GE Appliance Park Public Relations Manager.

Meanwhile, this contract puts Appliance Park workers in a unique situation with the pending sale to Electrolux. WDRB.com business reporter Chris Otts says Electrolux would not have to assume the new GE contract, but it would be a good basis to start.

“Where do you start with negotiations? The current deal is a pretty good starting point. And also, they've said they want to keep pay and benefits in the aggregate, the same for about a year,” Otts said.

Crittendon says they'll welcome Electrolux with open arms, but this new contract could set the stage for what workers expect under the new ownership.

“All we're looking for is a fair contract, and that's the message we want to send to Electrolux,” Crittendon said.

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