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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 21:26 GMT
GE union calls two-day strike
General Electric logo
Thousands of workers at the industrial giant General Electric (GE) are set to go on strike for the first time in 30 years.

GE's electrical workers union has called for a two-day strike starting on 14 January over plans by GE to increase worker contributions to a health care plan.

The union says the strike action will affect about 14,000 workers.

"This is one of those things where we feel we have to draw the line with (GE), and that's exactly what we're doing," said Edward Fire, president of the electrical workers union.

'National crisis'

Like most large American companies GE provides health care as a special and valuable benefit for its workers.

However, the rising cost of health care - particularly of prescription drugs - is outpacing the rate of US inflation.

Mr Fire earlier told the BBC's World Business Report programme that contribution increases would not solve the problem.

"This is not an issue that should be struggled with by an individual company and an individual union, this is... a national crisis that we have in America that ought to be dealt with nationally," he said.

Just the beginning?

The union claims the increased contribution per worker or retiree could be as high as $600 to $700 a year but the company claims it will be more like $200 a year.

The union was already due to meet with management in May to renegotiate a national agreement on wages and benefits as the existing agreement expires in June.

Mr Fire said the current agreement does allow management to impose the increased health care contribution, but he was disappointed the changes were being made ahead of the May meeting.

He added that he feared this is only the first step in a series of cuts.

"[GE] have made it abundantly clear that they want us to come up with $30m savings now and in national bargaining in a few months from now they intend to make even more demands in terms of health care cost increases," he said.

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  Edward Fire, Electrical Workers Union
"There's no question that health care costs in the United States are going up dramatically"
See also:

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