BOSTON — A General Electric spokesman and the union representing 7,400 of its striking workers at three aircraft engine factories agreed Tuesday that they want to end the 20-day-old walkout but said bargaining hasn't been very productive.
"We're really sad about the waste of this strike," said GE spokesman William Kennedy, adding that the issues in the walkout seem to be minor.
The union calls its demand of respect for the union by management a major issue but also adds that it wants a settlement.
"We don't want to see this as an endless test of will," said Jeff Crosby, recording secretary of Local 201 of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers. "We certainly know they're being hurt, as are we."
Two Key Issues
The union walked out Feb. 21 after the company suspended a shop steward at the Lynn, Mass., plant because he allegedly cursed at a company foreman during an argument about overtime.
The treatment of stewards and the company's procedure for settling union grievances are the two issues separating the union and management.
The GE plants in Lynn, Medford and Everett, Mass., hold government contracts for more than $1 billion worth of engines for military jets and helicopters.
Kennedy said production of the engines and of the steam turbines also made in Lynn has continued on a limited basis using management personnel.
During a 2 1/2-hour negotiating session Tuesday, the union presented another proposal, union spokeswoman Barbara Sweeney said. Negotiators recessed until today to give the company time to study the offer, she said.
Kennedy said he believed that the union was trying to gain a "blanket dispensation" for its stewards "that would give them license, as far as we see, to become abusive."
"Really, we think they are misrepresenting their stewards," he said.
"The company's position is very few union stewards in GE ever engage in that kind of conduct."
Sweeney replied that "the union says it does not want stewards to face the threat of punishment merely for presenting workers' grievances."
"The company is insisting that the stewards are losing their cool. We know that the foremen do as well," she said.
Crosby said GE had proposed earlier in the negotiations that they agree to a cooling-off period for disputes between stewards and foremen before the dispute goes to a grievance procedure.
But he said the company later withdrew the proposal even though the union liked it.
Kennedy described the withdrawal differently.
"They (the union) rejected it. We then withdrew it so we could see if there was some other way to approach the problem."