To the editor:
In March, General Electric Co. announced it would lay off 10 percent of the workers in its aviation division. Fearful of job loss and the COVID-19 pandemic spreading like wildfire across the U.S. and the world, and with the inept and negligent response of the Trump administration, action needed to be taken.
GE workers and local leaders, heeding the call of IUE-CWA national leaders Carl Kennebrew and Chris Shelton, protested the company’s layoff plans and set up picket lines at the GE River Works plant in Lynn and at company headquarters in Boston. Other protests organized by the union also took place in Dallas, Texas; Salem, Virginia; and and Schenectady, N.Y. These workers demanded that instead of layoffs, GE convert affected plants to the production of critically needed respirators. At a time like this, when the coronavirus is expected to peak and hospitals are overwhelmed with sick patients, doctors, nurses and other front-line medical workers are heroically battling to save lives, placing themselves in grave danger. They are carrying out their noble mission while plagued by critical shortages of respirators, N95 masks and other necessities. Union GE workers took a strong and principled stand in solidarity with the medical community and humanity in the battle against the virus.
In the battle against coronavirus on the shop floor, national and local union leaders and workers have been fighting to force GE to live up to its responsibility to provide a safe workplace. In an environment of collective production, it is nearly impossible to practice social distancing. Workers regularly share the same tools, gauges, machinery and restrooms. Workers were concerned because the company neglected to deep clean and disinfect the shops, and failed to provide workers with protective equipment against the highly contagious virus. Local union leaders and members demanded a two-week shutdown after at least three members tested positive. The company refused, forcing union officials to lead a group of workers out of the building.
Clearly GE is not concerned with the health and safety of the workforce. The GE plant in Lynn makes jet engines mainly for the military, and workers there are considered “essential employees” by the company. This is the excuse the company hides behind to cover their its greed and deny workers extra time away from work to quarantine. The workers know you cannot fight the coronavirus with Apache helicopters. The GE workers will not sacrifice their health and safety and their lives or the lives of their families for the profits of GE, Wall Street or armament companies.
GE workers join the growing number of workers who are also fighting corporations to protect their health and safety on the job during this pandemic. Workers at Amazon warehouses, Whole Foods and Instacart have struck and protested for greater safety and human respect in their workplaces. As the old union saying goes: In our unity lies our strength – an injury to one is an injury to all.
Retired GE union shop steward