LOUISVILLE, KY. Strikers at GE signal resolve

GE says it is meeting customers' needs despite the strike.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Striking workers at General Electric Co. said the picket lines signaled their resolve if contract negotiations later this year turn sour.
"We're letting GE know that we've had enough," striking Louisville plant worker Dave Ehrler said. "They pushed too far, and it's time to start pushing back a little bit."
Workers shrugged off bone-chilling temperatures to show their displeasure over higher out-of-pocket health costs imposed by the corporate giant. The two-day strike involving thousands of union employees across the country entered its final day today.
The striking workers are members of the International Union of Electrical Workers/Communications Workers of America and the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America.
GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said that the strike was affecting operations at plants, but that the company was meeting customers' needs.
Contract talks to come
Some workers grimly predicted they would be back on picket lines later this year. Negotiations are scheduled to begin this spring for a new contract to replace the one expiring in mid-June, said Randy Payton, president of IUE-CWA Local 761 in Louisville.
The strike was called to protest an increase in certain health care copayments by workers. The increase took effect Jan. 1 for a range of services, including prescription drugs and hospital visits.
GE said it increased certain copayments for employees participating in the GE Health Care Preferred plan by about $200 per employee in 2003.
The company said its average health care cost per employee is expected to be $2,350 higher in 2003 than in 1999. Since 1999, GE's total health care costs have risen 45 percent, from $965 million to $1.4 billion in 2002, GE said.
Union officials said the copay increases will cost the average worker an additional $300 to $400 annually.
Worker is killed
The walkout was overshadowed by the death early Tuesday of one striking worker struck by a police car outside the Louisville plant.
Kjeston "Michelle" Rodgers, 40, died at the scene of multiple traumatic injuries, Deputy Coroner JoAnn Farmer said. Rodgers was a production employee at the plant since 1994.
A U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff outside the local union hall. Picketing workers wore black arm bands, and a floral cross was placed at the spot where Rodgers died.
Rodgers was carrying a picket sign as she walked in a dimly lighted area about 5 a.m. EST, said Dwight Mitchell, a Louisville police spokesman. Authorities said the car was from the department in nearby Hollow Creek, driven by the police chief collecting mail.
Sheffer said about 17,500 employees were involved in the two-day strike. Union officials put the number at about 20,000.

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