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GE reaches tentative 4-year deal with unions

General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeff Immelt poses for a picture after a meeting in New Delhi
General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeff Immelt poses for a picture after a meeting in New Delhi

NEW YORK (Reuters) - General Electric Co on Sunday reached a tentative, four-year national labor contract with two key unions that cover more than 15,000 GE workers, or about 11 percent of its U.S. employees.

The tentative deal follows four weeks of negotiations over issues such as healthcare costs between the largest U.S. conglomerate and the International Union of Electric Workers/Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) and United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE).

A 2007 union contract is set to expire at midnight on Sunday.

"The four-year job packages provide gains in wages, pension and job and income security," the company said in a statement.

The contract provisions will also be extended to additional unions that have local contracts with GE, the company said.

About 15,200 union-represented employees in the United States are covered by the negotiations that began on May 23.

GE employs about 133,000 workers in the United States, which accounts for slightly less than half its global workforce.

"The contract also offers a special early retirement window for long-service employees," IUE-CWA said.

The agreements are subject to review by union negotiating committees and must be ratified by union members who work in GE appliance, aviation, transportation and energy facilities, among other manufacturing sites, by June 30.

About 80 facilities are covered by the union contracts, including large ones in Kentucky, New York State and Pennsylvania. GE last month identified healthcare costs, retirement plans, job security and wages as the four key issues negotiators would tackle. It has said its previous contract was negotiated before a financial crisis, housing market collapse and new regulations that have created more challenging conditions for its appliance, lighting and other businesses.

The IUE-CWA union has argued GE's healthcare plan for salaried workers vastly increased costs for participants even though costs to the company have remained stable as a percentage of company profits.

GE and its unions have negotiated their 12 national contracts without a strike.

Next month, the United Auto Workers union is due to open talks with the three big U.S. carmakers ahead of their contracts expiring on September 14.

Rising healthcare costs in the United States have crimped government budgets, raised insurance premiums, limited patients' access to care and increased costs for both large and small businesses.

(Reporting by Renju Jose in Bangalore and Nick Zieminski in New York; Editing by Vinu Pilakkott)

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