Last Wednesday union members at General Electric plants across the country protested to pressure the $88 billion company to shift production to ventilators and ensure safe working conditions during COVID-19.
Actions at plants in Massachusetts, Virginia, Texas, and New York were coordinated by the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers (IUE-CWA)—the latest in an escalating pressure campaign.
WORKERS’ TWO-FOLD THREAT
GE workers are facing a two-fold threat under COVID-19: dangerous working conditions and job loss. On March 23 the company announced that GE Aviation would cut 10 percent of its total U.S. workforce and that half the company’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul employees could be furloughed for the next three months.
GE could avert the layoffs, the union said, by accepting funds from the recent stimulus bill or by shifting the impacted GE Aviation shops to ventilator production. Instead, it has rejected federal assistance and partnered with Ford to build ventilators. Ford is making 50,000 ventilators at one of its Michigan plants, with “clinical expertise” from GE Healthcare.
MASSACHUSETTS THINKS BIG
In Lynn, Massachusetts, IUE-CWA Local 201 held a socially-distanced COVID-19 protest during each of the plant’s three shifts. The 1,300-person plant, which builds jet engines, has seven COVID-19 cases and workers are demanding a paid two-week shutdown to sanitize the plant and transition it to ventilator production.
Workers have cleared the building four times after learning they had been exposed to a worker with COVID-19. Each time, workers gathered in the parking lot and stated their demands to management. Section 502-143 of the National Labor Relations Act protects workers who choose not to work under “abnormally dangerous conditions.”
The protests have paid off. Workers have won temperature checks upon entering the plant, personal protective equipment (gloves, soap, paper towels, and some masks), and a tenfold budget increase for cleaning and supplies. Workers are still fighting for masks for all workers, hand sanitizer, and more protective uniforms. Local 201 has forced the company to waive discipline on COVID-19 related absences. Last week, 450 workers stayed home […]