General Electric Co. unions representing about 17,000 employees said Tuesday that they would stage the company's first national strike in 30 years, walking off the job for two days next week to protest an increase in health-care premiums.
The International Union of Electronic Workers-Communications Workers of America, which represents 13,900 employees and is General Electric's largest union, will strike Jan. 14, the union said in a statement. About 3,000 United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America members also will strike.
The unions represent 5.5% of the company's workforce, and a strike would affect plants in Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. General Electric, the largest maker of jet engines and power-generation equipment, said the health-care payment increase that began Jan. 1 will remain. Employees will pay about $200 a year more for health care, the company said.
"We're going to demonstrate our opposition to this move and exact a price from GE for what they did," said union official Stephen Tormey. "This is a demonstration of what could happen if they continue to recklessly shift more costs onto workers' backs."
The right to strike and for the company to implement the increase were negotiated in the last contract, which expires later this year. General Electric's health-care costs jumped 45% to $1.4 billion last year from $965 million in 1999, the firm said. The unions have said they expect costs to rise by more than $400 per employee annually.
Shares of Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric fell 15 cents to $25.90 on the New York Stock Exchange.
General Electric estimates that about 26,500 of its 310,000 active employees are union members. The company firm has said it has strike contingency plans and would be able to continue business.