Thursday, January 16, 2003

GE strike ending, but company goes to court

By Michael Virtanen
The Associated Press

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - Striking workers at General Electric Co. shrugged off frigid cold for a second consecutive day Wednesday to protest higher health care costs.

GE sought court orders to keep all its factory gates open during the strike, involving almost 18,000 union employees across the country. Strikers planned to be back at work today.

"We've got to get some benefits back," said Joe Barratiere, picketing with about 200 other workers and retirees.

Unionists said the vigil signaled their resolve if contract negotiations turn sour later this year.

"It's just a warm-up," striker Corkey Durocher said.

The strikers are members of the International Union of Electronic Workers/Communications Workers of America and the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America.

GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said the strike was affecting operations at plants, but the company was meeting customers' needs.

IUE president Edward Fire said the strike affected about 50 GE sites in 23 states.

The company sought an injunction in state Supreme Court to unblock the gates in Schenectady, Power Systems spokeswoman Jan Smith said. "The union has a right to strike on this issue, but workers have a right to come to work," she said.

Mr. Sheffer said court hearings are scheduled today and next Tuesday.

Too late to affect the two-day strike, the court cases may set legal groundwork for the future, Mr. Sheffer said. GE plans to address the issue with the National Labor Relations Board as well.

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