You are hereAlterNet: 50 Percent Pay Cuts at GE's Plants: Is This the Future of American Jobs?

AlterNet: 50 Percent Pay Cuts at GE's Plants: Is This the Future of American Jobs?

The company President Obama called a "model for America" is squeezing its workers, cutting pensions, wages and benefits--but workers are organizing to fight back.

-By Mischa Gaus This piece was originally published by Labor Notes. 

April 16, 2012-  If the war against unions has reached a tipping point, Wilma Smith is among those determined to rebalance the scales.

The 58-year-old assembler at the General Electric plant in West Burlington, Iowa, was called back to work in September.

She had been on layoff since 2007 from the non-union factory, which makes electrical switch gears for municipalities and energy-hungry factories, hospitals, and call centers. “You know how you have a fuse box in your house?” she asks. “These are like fuse boxes for a city,” the size of a refrigerator.

But the job came with new terms: a 50 percent pay cut—she’d now make $12 an hour. No health care coverage when she retired. And no chance she’d get the $5,000 bonus GE’s union workers won in last year’s national contract.

“You know what the deal is, so I don’t want to hear any complaining,” the manager at the 150-worker plant told her at orientation.

Six months later Smith is a leader in the Electrical Workers (IUE-CWA) organizing committee that’s expecting a Labor Board election in April.

The campaign was buoyed by a successful January vote at a GE factory that refurbishes locomotive motors in Kansas City, Missouri, the first GE plant to go union in a decade.

Success breeds success, and organizing is now under way in several other locations. “As soon as they heard the workers in Kansas City won, another group called us up immediately,” said Mike Knox, an Electrical Workers (IBEW) organizer involved in the Missouri win.

The organizing is a glimmer of hope against a dark backdrop for manufacturing unions struggling to maintain jobs and decent standards. Their efforts are further stymied by recent actions of the Obama administration, which seems to support the notion that low wages are the answer to globalization and runaway shops.



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