Good Morning Fellow Shareowners:
My name is Bill Freeda, and I am here this morning to vote against Jeffrey Immelt, and to urge all of you to do the same. I don’t take this position lightly, but in my opinion Mr. Immelts word cannot be trusted.
At the conclusion of last year’s shareowners meeting the Chairman said, and I quote “I’d like to say to the retirees, thanks for coming. We listened to you, We honor your service, thanks for being here”. Jeff based on your actions; you could not have made a more disingenuous statement.
In the GE Pensioner Handbook dated as recently as January 1, 2012, it states that “GE expects and intends to continue the GE Medicare Benefit Plans in this handbook indefinitely.” Somehow it doesn’t seem to me that breaking that promise honors our service.
Full disclosure: that section continues, reserving the right to terminate, amend, or replace the benefit programs at any time, for any reason. But
that section also gives specific examples of when taking such an extreme
measure would be necessary. The Chairman and his surrogates never
seem to mention that.
As Mr. Immelt knows full well, that provision was never meant
to cut the legs out from under long-term, loyal employees and retirees, who had earned coverage under GE’s post-65 Medicare supplemental
plans, or were entitled to Special Benefits Protection. That however, is the legal position GE is taking in the two lawsuits it is currently facing.
Of course the decision of legality will not be resolved here today. But, fellow shareowners let us not confuse legal and illegal, with right and
wrong. Make no mistake about it; this action that GE has taken is wrong.
We can point to times in this country’s history, when actions may
have been legal, but were still wrong. As I look at our own Board of Directors today, I am reminded that less than a hundred years ago,
Susan Hockfield, Andrea Jung, Rochelle Lazarus, and Mary Shapiro were not able to vote. That may have been legal, but who here today would
claim that it was right.
In Chairman and CEO Immelt’s “Statement of Integrity,” dated January 2002, he says , “Nothing—not making the numbers, competitiveness or direct orders from a superior—should ever compromise your commitment to integrity.”
And again in his Statement of Integrity, dated June 2005, Mr. Immelt says “Do not allow anything—not making the numbers, competitive instincts, or even a direct order from a superior—to
compromise your commitment to integrity.” In his most recent letter to shareowners, dated February 26, 2016, the Chairman says we (GE)
“act with unyielding integrity, and ”we do what we say we are going to do.” Uh, not so much.
Now all of Chairman Immelt’s words need to be viewed against
the background of GE’s termination of its post-65 retiree medical benefits. Not for new employees, not for employees hired after 2005,
but for long-term, loyal members of the GE family. Some of these family members retired more than thirty years ago, and some in their mid-80’s
and 90’s. That is how Jeffrey Immelt honors the service of GE’s retirees.
It does baffle me how Mr. Immelt can claim that breaking a
decades long promise to the people on whose shoulders he stands, is not a violation of GE’s Integrity Policy. Or more likely, he simply doesn’t
And then of course there is Mr. Immelts compelling defense of this shameful act. Everybody’s doing it. Really Jeff, thanks for the trip down
memory lane, I haven’t heard that whiney excuse since my children were eight. And yet here we are today hearing that very defense from
the General Electric Company, its Chairman, CEO and his surrogates.
There is currently a television commercial that ends “do you
know what GE is.” It seems incomplete to me, perhaps it should continue, Yes I do, GE is a company that abandons its long-term family members at a time in their lives they are most vulnerable. GE is a company that treats its retirees as obsolete equipment in a plant it closed. GE is a company that not only abandoned its retirees, but its integrity policy.
Having worked in television for more than 42 years, I have a
tendency to recall lines of dialogue. In an episode of Blue Bloods, one of the characters describes his grandchild’s teacher as“never uncertain, and seldom right.” That, in a nutshell sums up Mr. Immelt’s tenure as GE’s Chairman and CEO.
As I said when I began, I am not voting for Jeff Immelt today, because I do not trust what he says. My concern, fellow shareowners is: will current employees, prospective employees, stock analysts, investors, customers, or vendors, now believe what Chairman Immelt says in the future,