NATIONWIDE - On Wednesday, members of the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) held protests -- standing six feet apart -- at General Electric (GE) facilities in New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and Virgina, demanding that GE put its highly-skilled workforce to work manufacturing life-saving ventilators for COVID-19 patients and implement enhanced safety measures at its facilities to protect workers. The IUE-CWA members held signs saying “GE: We Can Make Ventilators” and “GE Keep Us Safe.”
“Our members are ready to help America during this COVID-19 crisis by making life-saving ventilators in our IUE-CWA represented facilities. These workers have the skills, and we have the space in our plants to do this work," said IUE-CWA President Carl Kennebrew. "Instead of laying workers off, GE should be stepping up to the plate with us to build the ventilators this country needs. In the plants that are up and running, GE also needs to keep workers safe on the job. They need to do more in the plants to make sure workers are protected while they are keeping this country running.”
"GE is limited in how much they are able to increase production at their GE Healthcare facility,” Kennebrew continued. “All they have been able to do is go from one shift to three shifts. But the limit to the numbers of ventilators GE is able to produce at their other facilities depends only on the size of their investment. We call on GE to instruct the management at GE Healthcare to oversee the production at our plants with excess capacity."
As part of the protests, IUE-CWA members safety demands include the installation of proper equipment for taking the temperature of every person, employee or not, before they enter a GE facility and discussions with Union officials at both the national and plant level on how to best protect workers required to remain on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our members are ready to help fight this public health crisis, but instead, GE has announced they want to permanently close our worksite. We are ready to work to fight COVID-19, we hope GE will step up to put us to work, and keep us safe while we work,” said Walter Bradford, President of IUE-CWA Local 86788 in Dallas, TX. “GE also needs to help us protect ourselves from getting the virus while we’re on the job. This means providing us with the proper protective equipment so that we can work safely and effectively.”
The simultaneous protests by the GE workers escalated pressure on the company to take action amidst the pandemic. Last week, IUE-CWA members protested outside of GE’s aviation facility in Lynn, MA and GE’s national HQ in Boston, MA to urge the company to protect workers and save lives.
"GE and other companies should utilize all of their capacity to develop solutions to this health care crisis,” said Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. “It is frustrating that GE has failed to respond to their employees' and unions' call to step up and increase domestic output of critical medical supplies."
BACKGROUND ON INDIVIDUAL SITES
In addition to the massive layoffs GE is planning for its aviation workforce, the company has also informed workers at its Dallas facility of the plant’s impending closure, leaving union members who have the skills required to make ventilators jobless and the space to develop life-saving equipment empty.
Workers in Dallas, TX; Salem, VA; Lynn, MA; and Schenectady, NY are demanding the company leverage the experience of its workforce to use its own manufacturing capacity to address the ventilator shortage crisis facing hospitals around the country:
- GE Power Center of Excellence, Dallas, TX, IUE-CWA Local 86788: On February 20, 2020, GE announced the intent to close this shop with the employees that keep our national electric grid running. Local IUE-CWA members are demanding GE use this facility and its highly-skilled workers to manufacture ventilators, and are calling for increased safety measures to protect them at this time. The plant has won the company’s coveted “Center of Excellence” designation and has a clean room which would help facilitate ventilator production.
- Former Industrial Controls Plant, Salem, VA, IUE-CWA Local 82161: On November 28, 2018, GE closed this factory, which now has over one million square feet of empty space, and laid off 200 workers. These workers are demanding that GE put them back to work, manufacturing ventilators to help fight the pandemic. Their expertise manufacturing circuit boards and custom control systems for gas, wind and solar energy turbines could easily be put to use right now manufacturing ventilators.
- GE Aviation, Lynn, MA, IUE-CWA Local 81201: The Lynn facility manufactures jet engines and military aircraft parts, and at one time employed 20,000 workers. Now only 1,230 work there amid cavernous, empty manufacturing spaces. Lynn workers are calling on GE to utilize this space to manufacture ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
- GE Global Research Center, Schenectady, NY, IUE-CWA Local 81301: The Schenectady facility produces generators for the power grids in the USA and throughout the world. This facility, which formerly employed 20,000 workers and now employs just over 800, clearly has significant excess capacity. It is particularly well-suited for ventilator work. It houses a research and development facility and clean room, and employs hundreds of engineers with experience piloting innovative healthcare technology. Workers there are calling for the manufacturing of ventilators.
“I spent the last 25 years helping build advanced drive controls for turbines at GE’s plant in Salem, but then GE closed our plant in 2019,” said Vicky Hurley, Former President of IUE-CWA Local 82161 in Salem, VA. “We want to work and we are more than capable of building ventilators right now, which could help save lives. But instead of using its highly skilled workers in the area, GE has cut jobs and left its massive manufacturing plant here empty and unused.”
“As essential factory workers, we know that we are on the front lines of keeping our economy running,” said Scott Fernandez, President of Local 81301 in Schenectady, NY “Our members would be even prouder to come to work, if we could help contribute to our country's fight against this pandemic.”