SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It was certainly no small turnout Friday as the clock struck noon and more than 200 General Electric employees punched out and walked out to protest mandatory vaccinations.
“These factory workers have done a great job of working through COVID, and I think this is just a slap in the face to them,” says Chris Depoalo, the elected business agent for the local chapter of the International Union of Electrical and Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA Local 301).
“We have been essential for 18 months, and now we went from heroes to zeros,” says Michelle Kimball-Abraham who has been working at GE for eight years.
Depoalo says it’s been exactly one week since they learned GE would enforce the federal employee vaccine mandate.
“This was announced last Friday to me and to the rest of the membership, so I think that gave them about seven days to get the Moderna shot if they wanted that or you could get the Johnson and Johnson, but for me as the representative, I feel GE should’ve come to the table a month and a half ago,” Depoalo explains to NEWS10 ABC’s Mikhaela Singleton.
“A lot of people thought we would fall under the OSHA guidelines, which were testing, and then we are being told that we’re federal contractors which we weren’t very clear on,” he goes on to say.
GE confirms to NEWS10 all employees must be fully vaccinated by December 8 to fall in line with the executive order, unless they can prove a religious or medical exemption. The representative’s statement reads:
As a federal contractor, GE is complying with the executive order which requires employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. All GE U.S. employees will be fully vaccinated or receive a medical or religious accommodation by December 8th as required in the order. We have shared this information with our employees to allow for as much time as possible for employees to get vaccinated, if they have not already.
Depoalo argues the announcement was not made in enough time to make a choice before missing the window for a first shot. He says the decision for a walk-out came after discussing with union and non-union coworkers, then opening the floor to how they wanted to raise their concerns,
“We have a lot of people [here] that are vaccinated and unvaccinated. We are just asking them to show unity for the guys who will lose their jobs,” he says. “This is America, it’s a free country. I understand wanting to protect people, you know I don’t want to see anybody get sick. I know this pandemic has hit people hard. I have people in my own membership that have gotten very sick, so we want to protect everybody, but we also want to make sure we protect freedom of choice.”
These workers also say without them, they worry the national worker shortage will cripple GE projects.
“We also make ventilators, so when the workforce is put out for not being vaccinated, it’s going to actually cut important supply to save peoples lives,” says Kimball-Abraham.
However, whether or not they agree with the federal policies, they’re torn on even the possibility of looking for another job.
“I wouldn’t leave GE. I wouldn’t want to. My grandfather worked here, so I am next generation for my family, and it’s important to me. I love my job, and I love the people that I have worked with for many years,” says Kimball-Abraham.
“I look at these people as my family. I’ve been part of the union since I was a little kid, my father was the business agent for this local [union chapter]. This is something that is very passionate to me,” says Depoala.
He says there is a planned meeting with GE corporate leaders on Monday where he hopes both sides can come to the table with solutions.
“We just want to buy people more time, get some unity, hopefully we can get some testing for people who don’t want to be vaccinated, try to get them their workers rights and the rights to choose,” he explains.