Union and management officials returned to the bargaining table yesterday in an attempt to resolve a month-old strike of General Electric workers at three Massachusetts plants. Talks had been suspended since Wednesday, when management called for a "cooling-down period" in negotiations.
"Most of the broad issues identified by the union are no longer preventing a settlement," said GE spokesman William Kennedy. Despite this progress, he said an end to the 7400-worker strike was "not imminent."
"The one remaining issue at hand is the union's demand for a special code of conduct for stewards," he said.
The issue of the relationship between union stewards and company foremen has been a chief subject of dispute since the strike was called Feb. 21, after a shop steward was disciplined by the company for swearing at a foreman at GE's Lynn plant.
"The company refuses to acknowledge that their foremen can become abusive," said Barbara Sweeney, a spokesman for Local 201 of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers. "The foremen antagonize the stewards to get them to fly off the handle and then suspend them."
Sweeney said that while misconduct by stewards typically results in immediate suspension, grievances against shop foremen typically take two years to process. "Shop foremen swear, too," she said, "and nothing ever happens to them."
Kennedy, however, said that a "special dispensation from the code of conduct" for stewards would be "tantamount to a code of disrespect."
"The general issue is an extremely important one," said Juliet Schor, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard specializing in unions. "The workers are saying they want to be treated like human beings."
Unions from other areas of the New England plan to rally in support of the striking workers in Lynn this Saturday. Several thousand supporters are expected to attend the "Justice on the Job" demonstration, according to the strikers.