Kansas City GE Workers Win Voice on the Job
February 1, 2012
After three failed organizing campaigns in almost four years in Kansas City, Mo., General Electric Transportation’s managers might have thought they had unions licked. That all changed on Jan. 27 when workers voted 44 to 41for representation by Kansas City Local 1464.
Lead Organizer Mike Knox says workers at the plant called organizers back soon after a prior IBEW campaign lost by 11 votes in December 2010. Based upon company statements during the prior campaign, workers had been led to expect a significant wage increase if the union lost. But the wage increase they received was not at the level they expected.
Jim Wasserman, a heavy frame repairman, has worked at GE Transportation for a year and a half. A volunteer organizing committee member, Wasserman says his committee dealt upfront questions such as whether GE would pull out of Kansas City in retaliation for a win by the union.
Workers arrived at a consensus that the company had made a significant investment in the still new facility and would incur significant costs to shut it down. “We hit home,” says Wasserman, with the message that if GE ever did decide to leave, the workers would be left with nothing unless they had a labor agreement with protections like severance pay and other benefits. Says Wasserman:
As union busters tried to marginalize IBEW organizers and spread rumors, the VOC held meetings, even after second shift at midnight to dispense accurate information. Says Knox:
Prior to IBEW filing for a new election, the company announced a new bonus plan for 2011 to reward workers for high productivity and good attendance. But last December, after the union filing, GE said they couldn’t grant any bonuses until a representation election was held because they could be accused of an NLRB unfair labor practice. The fuse was lit.
During prior campaigns by the IBEW, the Teamsters and the UAW, GE Transportation tried to separate the senior workers on the daylight shift from their mostly junior co-workers on evening shift. This time they deepened that tactic by scheduling less overtime and reducing Saturday “supershifts” to keep workers from each shift apart. Wasserman, a second shift worker, says the VOC overcame GE’s tactics. He says:
IBEW organizers invited members of railroad locals who work with GE motors to VOC meetings. Says Knox:
Knox credits the win at GE to powerful teamwork among the plant’s workes and a merger of local union and International resources. Darrell McCubbins, business manager of Local 1464 and his staff worked closely with Eleventh District International Vice President Curtis Henke and his staff to overcome misinformation and other obstacles planted by GE’s union busters.