SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Workers at General Electric’s Schenectady plant are taking part in a nationwide protest, alongside demonstrations at plants in Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia.
Organizers claim the protest is because of GE’s response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as some concerns about worker safety. They claim the company’s manufacturing capacity has been underutilized, and the production of life-saving ventilators should be accelerated.
We’re here today to try and bring ventilator work into Schenectady, New York, or any of the locals for the IUE-CWA. We have a very skilled workforce and we’d like them to get some of this work.
We’re an essential workforce, we’d like to be here to help the community, help the people that we can do the best by, it’s definitely an honor. We’re hoping that we can get some of this work in here.Union Business Agent Chris DePoalo
DePoalo also acknowledges the Schenectady plant was taking steps when it came to employee safety.
He says: “One of the main concerns is the safety and well-being of our workforce. We think that GE has stepped up to the call. They have done a lot as far as cleaning the bathrooms, spraying the jobs down. We’re trying to make sure we provide safe working conditions for the local, and that way we can continue to keep working and produce whatever we need to produce moving forward.”
Protesters stood six-feet apart outside the plant, holding signs with the slogans “We Can Make Ventilators” and “GE Keep Us Safe.”
GE’s labor union, IUE-CWA, has a full list of demands:
- Immediate discussions on manufacturing ventilators at GE Aviation
- Negotiations with union officials regarding worker safety
- Supplemental hazard pay rates
- Additional break time for hand washing
- Full paid leave for employees with health conditions
- Full pay for quarantined workers
GE responded with a statement claiming ventilator production has been slowed due to a shortage of parts and components, not labor. The company also claims they have increased health and safety measures at their Schenectady and Niskayuna sites in response to the virus.
The safety measures include:
- Temperature checks for employees entering the sites
- Enhanced cleaning protocols
- New guides about flexible working arrangements
- Two weeks of additional paid leave for employees diagnosed with the virus
Union President Scott Fernandez suggests the demonstration is about more than the work done in the Schenectady plant.
“We’re trying to bring light to the fact we want to do ventilator work. Whether it’s here in Schenectady or in some of our sites like Salem, that’s been shut down this past year, or in Kansas where 340 of our members have a temporary lack of work. We’re a proud labor force and these communities are all skilled communities that have had GE labor here for years, and we can produce anything. We’ve proved it here, we’ve adapted and had different product lines here throughout the year.” Fernandez says.
Fernandez also outlined how workers feel a sense of duty during the current crisis, following up with:
“We are proud Americans and we want to help our country get out of this pandemic in any way we can.”
GE has acknowledged that speed is critical when it comes to the production of ventilators and hopes that by overlapping their supply chain with Ford’s, production can be increased.
A GE spokesperson said:
GE’s number one priority is the health and safety of our employees, and in line with the CDC, we have taken a number of preventive and protective measures to help protect our employees. We have implemented additional, COVID-related paid leave policies and continue to work with individual employees who may have unique risk factors or situations.
In Schenectady, our gas power workforce is fully focused on critical power infrastructure projects that are providing electricity where it’s needed around the world. Their work is critical to supporting a strong, reliable electricity grid. Separately, GE’s healthcare business has already doubled ventilator production and continues to explore additional opportunities to support the fight against COVID-19, prioritizing fast, efficient options to meet this immediate need.
GE has also highlighted the work they are doing on ventilator production with Ford and UAW. They claim Ford’s factories are “geared toward high volume mass production, which is what is needed to help us meet the unprecedented demand for ventilators.”
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