GE workers staged a series of protests Wednesday, demanding that they be able to make critically needed ventilators to help patients stricken with COVID-19.
Workers demonstrated at factories in Schenectady, New York, Dallas and Salem, Virginia, as well as the company’s aviation facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, which was the scene of a similar protest last week.
The protesters called for a shift in production, allowing them to go from making turbines, aviation parts and other components to helping hospitals source vitally needed medical equipment. The switch would create and save jobs when GE plans to lay off or furlough a significant part of its U.S. workforce.
“Instead of laying workers off, GE should be stepping up to the plate with us to build the ventilators this country needs,” Carl Kennebrew, president of the Industrial Division of the Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA ), which represents the workers, said in a statement. “In the plants that are up and running, GE also needs to keep workers safe on the job.”
In a statement, GE said that it “is working around the clock to increase production of much-needed medical equipment. GE Healthcare has already doubled ventilator production capacity, with a plan to double it again by June, in addition to partnering with Ford Motor Company to further increase ventilator production.”
The company has noted that its facilities are not set up for the high volume, mass production the immediate creation of ventilators requires, and that they are geared towards other critical functions, such as supplying the power grid.
Last month, GE’s chairman and CEO H. Lawrence Culp Jr. told workers that GE Aviation would cut roughly 10% of its U.S. employees and furlough about 50% of its maintenance, overhaul and repair employees for 90 days.
The factories that were the targets of Wednesday’s protests are slated to be shuttered, have seen their workforces drastically reduced or are already closed. The Lynn facility, which makes jet engines and parts for military aircraft, at its height had 20,000 employees, union leaders said, but now employs 1,230.
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Across industries, workers have been taking action to demand a greater role in fighting the pandemic, as well as better protections against the virus in their workplaces.
Employees for Instacart, Amazon and Whole Foods have staged or planned strikes and walkouts.
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