A January strike is imminent at General Electric Co. production facilities across the country, including Appliance Park in Louisville, KY, U.S. That is the word from Art Smith, chairman of the Louisville-based conference board of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers-Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Mr. Smith confirmed that because GE officials have decided to go ahead with plans to implement increased co-payments in a major company health plan, workers will walk off the job in January. Mr. Smith declined to say when the strike will begin or how long it is expected to last. Union officials "have a plan, but we are going to keep it close to the vest until about two or three days before it happens," Smith said. "We want to inform our 60 locals before we inform the media, so we aren't ready to release any information at this time."
Kim Freeman, general manager of global communications for Louisville-based GE Consumer Products, said the company's position on the co-payment increases is unchanged and that the company implemented changes to the GE Health Care Preferred Plan, effective Jan. 1. "This isn't a one-time thing," Ms. Freeman said. "Health care costs are going to continue to rise and, like just about any other business, this is something we're going to have to deal with each year." Freeman said the company followed proper procedures, as outlined by the current contract with the IUE-CWA, to implement the co-pay increases. GE officials expect to spend companywide about U.S. $1.4 billion — an average of $9,400 per active worker — on health insurance in 2002, up 45 percent from 1999. "The average cost that GE pays per employee will rise $2,350 in 2003," with the increased co-pays taken into consideration, Freeman said. "The cost we are passing along to the typical employee is an increase of about $200, which we feel is a very modest portion."
Most of the co-pay increases in the GE Health Care Preferred Plan are in the $10 to $20 range, except for in-patient hospital or treatment facility co-pays, which jumped from zero to $150, with a cap of two co-pays per family per year, company officials have said. Companywide, she said, GE is projected to save about $28 million — including $1.2 million in Louisville — in 2003 by implementing the co-pay increases. Ms. Freeman said that about 80 percent of the union workers at Appliance Park participate in the GE Health Care Preferred Plan. Freeman said GE officials hope the union will reconsider its decision to strike. The company has a plan in place to continue production in the event of a strike, Freeman added, but she declined to reveal details of that plan. (Business First)
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