There were two main reasons for the April 8 protest at the closed General Electric Plant in Salem: to remind GE that they have about a million square foot building just sitting there and encourage the company to use skilled workforce to build life-saving ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
The protest was organized by the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers – Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA). To adhere to the social distancing guidelines, protestors maintained six feet of space between each other.
“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.”
Among the union’s stipulations are: installing proper equipment for taking temperatures of every person entering a GE facility, discussions with health and safety experts to design safety protocols during the pandemic, disability benefits, hazard pay, personal protective equipment, allowing at-risk employees to self-isolate and collect paid leave or unemployment benefits through the CARES Act.
Said Carl Kennebrew, President of IUE-CWA, “For those that are laid off, I think this is an opportunity to build these ventilators instead of having our workers at home. We have the knowledge and the skills to get the work done. I think we could meet whatever demands we’re asked about, we just have not been provided the opportunity.”
Vicky Hurley is the former President of IUE-CWA Local 82161 that represented Salem GE workers until November 2019. Today, she works with the union to help retirees with any questions that they have. When asked if she thought GE would respond to the workers’ requests, Hurley expressed frustration.
“All we are trying to do is get GE to stop closing plants and laying people off right here in the United States and be one of those shining lights they were in the past. We have yet to hear from GE which is very disappointing,” Hurley said.
The impact of COVID-19 has impacted all businesses. Ten percent of GE’s domestic aviation, roughly 2,600 workers, has been laid off nationwide.
“GE and other companies should utilize all of their capacity to develop solutions to this health care crisis,” said Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. “It is frustrating that GE has failed to respond to their employees’ and unions’ call to step up and increase domestic output of critical medical supplies.”
Last Wednesday’s nationwide protest happened outside of three other GE Plants: Schenectady, New York; Dallas, Texas; and Lynn, Massachusetts.”