Union workers reject 4-year labor contract with GE Appliances - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Union workers reject 4-year labor contract with GE Appliances

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Appliance Park worker Vince O'Donnell made his thoughts on the contract known at a union meeting on Nov. 20. Appliance Park worker Vince O'Donnell made his thoughts on the contract known at a union meeting on Nov. 20.
Members of IUE-CWA Local 761, led by president Dana Crittendon, rallied ahead of previous contract negotiations in May 2015. Members of IUE-CWA Local 761, led by president Dana Crittendon, rallied ahead of previous contract negotiations in May 2015.
GE Appliance Park workers on a washer line. GE Appliance Park workers on a washer line.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The nearly 4,000 union workers at GE Appliance Park have overwhelmingly rejected a four-year labor contract with GE Appliances and its new parent company, Qinqdao Haier of China.

Of the 3,608 members who voted Tuesday, 72 percent opposed the contract, while 28 percent favored it, according to figures posted to the website of IUE-CWA Local 83-761.

"We can't be pushed down any farther than we are," said Jeff Lindsey, a washer line worker who voted against the contract.

A 37-year-old single father, Lindsey said his $15.51-per-hour pay hasn't changed since he was hired four years ago, and he'd rather go on strike than accept another four years without an hourly pay increase.

"There have to be concessions on both sides, and there was nothing on their side," he said. 

The rejection of the contract means an uncertain future for the 60-year-old manufacturing campus in southeast Louisville, where GE Appliances claims the company is losing “hundreds of millions” of dollars a year.

Haier, which bought GE Appliances for $5.6 billion in June, has been voluntarily honoring the terms of the workers' 2015 contract with General Electric Co.

"A workforce that is unwilling to change to improve our operations and cost position could deter future investments in Appliance Park," GE Appliances said in a statement Tuesday. "While it is our desire to continue to manufacture at the Park, we cannot do it to the detriment of our customers and the overall business."

Local 761 President Dana Crittendon said last week that workers understand a 'no' vote is a vote to go on strike, but he was unsure if that would happen or if the union might keep talking to the company.

"The company will talk with the union upon request," GE Appliances said.

The contract included a number of money-saving measures that were unpopular with the park's workers, whose wages range from $15.51 per hour to over just over $30 per hour.

The contract offered lump-sum payments in lieu of hourly pay raises, made overtime harder to earn and cut the starting wage at the park to $12 per hour, making a new tier of lower-paid workers within the union workforce.

"It’s all table scraps," said Mike Kilroy, 64, who has worked at Appliance Park for 31 years. "They're just throwing rice at us."

With overtime – including double-time for shifts over 12 hours and Sunday work – it’s possible for so-called “legacy” workers like Kilroy to earn over $100,000 a year.

But the majority of Appliance Park workers are now in the lower pay scales, like Lindsey at $15 per hour.

The contract included no hourly raises, instead offering offering workers three lump-sum payments that would total $5,500 by 2019.

Vince O'Donnell, who makes just over $18 an hour in park warehouse that ships finished products, said he mistakenly believed when joining Appliance Park less than two years ago that he might one day advance to the same solid, middle-class wage earned by the "legacy" employees. 

“I did not know there was not a path to get there,” O'Donnell said in an interview Sunday, adding that he would oppose the contract. “…We all knew from past history, GE is place to be. It’s not no more… There’s no future.”

Barry Brown, a $15-per-hour worker in the building where bottom-freezer refrigerators are made, called the contract "horrible" for its lack of raises over four years, among other problems.

"The only people this contract benefits is Haier," said Brown, who has worked at Appliance Park for four years. "This contract hurts the employees here. It is no longer a company to retire  from. It's just a stopping point until something better comes along."

In another blow to workers' earning power, the contract would have made overtime and double time harder to earn, moving the threshold for extra pay from 8 hours in a day to 40 hours in a week.

"Your income potential is whacked," said Kilroy, who earns base pay of $31 an hour testing finished products for defects.

Kilroy said he's already lost about $50,000 in "potential income" from the lack of overtime -- especially double-time shifts -- this year because of management's efforts to reduce labor costs.

For lower-paid workers like Lindsey, overtime is the "only opportunity" to "actually make a decent paycheck," he said.

The contract also would have set a new entry level wage of $12 an hour – or $3 per hour less than the current entry wage. Benefits for new workers would be phased in, and they would advance to only $14 per hour before the next contract is negotiated in 2020.

Kilroy noted that warehouse and temp agencies are paying far more than $12 an hour, predicting that only "criminals and desperate people" would accept that wage. 

"You can't run a household on $12 an hour; that’s impossible," he said. 

Related Stories:

GE Appliance Park loses "hundreds of millions" of dollars each year, CEO says

GE Appliances, union reach tentative deal on labor contract

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