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CWA Demands GE Use Aviation Workers to Build Ventilators

Instead of retrofitting their factory, GE is laying off staff

Brian Young's picture
Mar 31, 2020

As states prepare for the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, there is a fear that the need for ventilators will outpace the stockpile. To ramp up the production of the needed equipment, Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to force General Motors to start producing them. Yet for one of the nations’ largest ventilator producers, General Electric, employees are pressuring their bosses to let them build this lifesaving piece of equipment.

On Monday employees at GE’s Lynn Massachusetts Aviation plant protested the companies decision to lay off 2,600 of their aviation workforce in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The workers are demanding that the company retrofit their factory and use them to produce ventilators. The factory is currently used to build jet engines. The employees, who are members IUE-CWA Local 81201, say that their expertise in building engines for planes can be used to make these life-saving devices.

“If GE trusts us to build, maintain, and test engines which go on a variety of aircraft where millions of lives are at stake, why wouldn’t they trust us to build ventilators?” IUE-CWA Local 86004 President Jake Aguanaga said.

Since GE already builds the ventilators, the workers believe that it will be easier to get their aviation plants up and running, allowing them to create the ventilators faster than other factories. On Monday, Ford announced that they would be working with GE Health for the use of their Airon design. Ford hopes to build 50,000 units by July 8th but won’t have mass production started until April 20th.  Yet states like New York are projecting to be at their ventilator capacity in two to three weeks.

“The crisis we face with the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. It requires us – all of us – to work for the common good and save lives,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “But at a time when our country is depending on skilled workers to make essential products like ventilators, our members are left wondering why they are facing layoffs instead of having the opportunity to use their skills to help save lives. We challenge GE to partner with our members and the management of its own Aviation and Electronic Lighting divisions to convert some of its unused capacity to alleviate our critical national shortage of life-saving ventilators.”

CWA President Shelton and IUE-CWA President Carl Kennebrew sent letters to U.S. Senators representing Texas, Virginia, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio on Monday, urging them to support efforts to get GE to begin manufacturing ventilators and initiate enhanced policies to protect workers in essential facilities. GE currently has capacity and workers with the skill set necessary to build ventilators in Dallas, Texas; Salem, Va.; Arkansas City, Kans.; Madisonville, Ky.; Lynn, Mass.; Schenectady, N.Y.; Bucyrus, Ohio; and Cleveland, Ohio, but GE has announced either closing or a layoff in a number of these locations.

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