Striking GE workers protest health care costs


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:04 a.m.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A picketing worker was struck and killed by a police car Tuesday as thousands of General Electric Co. employees across the country began a two-day strike to protest higher health insurance costs.
Union leaders said about 20,000 members of the International Union of Electronic Workers/Communications Workers of America and the Electrical Workers union took part in the walkout at 48 locations in 23 states. The affected plants manufacture everything from consumer appliances to jet engines.
A few hours into the strike, Kjeston "Michelle" Rodgers, 40, was hit outside a GE plant in Louisville as the eight-year employee walked with a picket sign before daybreak. The car was from the police department in nearby Hollow Creek, officials said.
"The lady was out here doing something she believed in," said Dave Riddle, who was picketing at the same plant. "Rising health care in America is putting the crunch on everybody, and it cost her her life."
It is the first national strike at GE since 1969, when workers walked off the job for about 14 weeks.
GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said at company headquarters in Fairfield, Conn., that about 17,500 employees were involved in the strike. He said the company was meeting the needs of its customers.
"But that's not the company's focus today," he said. "The company's focus is on the tragic accident in Louisville and the loss of a colleague. Everyone at GE extends our heartfelt sympathy to the family. We're deeply saddened by this tragic accident."
GE recently raised certain co-payments for employees participating in a health care plan by about $200 per employee.
Since 1999, GE's health care costs have risen 45 percent, to $1.4 billion in 2002, the company said.
Union officials said that the co-pay increases will cost the average worker an additional $300 to $400 a year and that GE is posting record profits and does not need additional payments from employees.

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