General Electric Workers Would Like To Make Some Ventilators, Please
Last week, General Electric announced that they would be laying off about 10% of their aviation workforce — about 2600 aviation factory workers and half of their maintenance staff — in hopes of saving a little bit of money during this pandemic. This was despite the fact that Congress just passed a two trillion dollar corporate bailout, $100 billion of which will be going to — you guessed it — the aviation industry. Including General Electric.
General Electric workers, however, think that's a pretty bad idea. They think the company should keep them on and allow them to build the ventilators we so desperately need, so that people are able to survive the very pandemic that is causing them to lose their jobs. So on Monday, many of these workers got together and held a protest to demand that GE do this instead of the very stupid thing that they want to do. Union workers at the company's Boston headquarters held a march, and workers at their aviation facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, held a silent protest — both of which observed proper social distancing protocols.
In a press conference, members of the Industrial Division of Communication Workers of America (IUE-CWA) explained how General Electric's current layoffs and closures would undermine future efforts to increase ventilator production. Without experienced workers to operate now empty and idle factories, production will likely be slowed down.
IUE-CWA Local 86004 President Jake Aguanaga offered his plant, located in Arkansas City, Kansas, as an example of how much manufacturing capacity could be converted: more than 52 percent of his workforce has been laid off, and several football fields worth of factory space are currently sitting idle. "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?" he said.
Wow! That sure seems like a good and logical idea! Especially considering that General Electric Healthcare already makes ventilators, and the company is already being required to make more of them, now that Trump has finally gotten around to invoking the Defense Production Act, sort of, maybe. Keeping people on and having them make ventilators seems like a far better plan than laying them off and adding to the already very high number of unemployed people we have in this country.
It is almost as if part of the reasoning behind the idea that workers should own the means of production is that workers are more familiar with what their jobs actually are and thus more likely to come up with smart ideas like this one.
GE workers are not the only workers out there who think the companies they work for should switch — at least for a while — to making medical supplies. The Witchita, Kansas, machinists union president sent a letter out to several manufacturing companies suggesting that they do exactly that.
Hospitals across the country are scrambling to find enough personal protective gear to keep doctors and nurses from being infected as they care for patients with COVID-19. The shortages have become so widespread that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently proposed that medical personnel use bandanas or scarfs when masks run out.
To boost the supply, Machinists District Lodge 70 is asking some of the state's largest employers to stop building airplanes and start making masks. But first, the companies should undergo "a complete and rapid shutdown for all manufacturing personnel" while the companies deep clean their factories.
While the factories are closed for cleaning, the companies should prepare for manufacturing and distributing disposable face shields and splash guards, filter masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, according to the letter.
Wow! Again! Another thing that makes a lot of sense!
Working in manufacturing means these workers are more at risk than white collar workers who are able to work from home. They understand that they or someone they care about may be in the position of needing to be cared for by other workers who need personal protective equipment in order to do that safely — and they want to make sure they are able to do that. It is, frankly, a really cool act of solidarity.
We need ventilators. We need medical equipment and supplies. If people are going to be making things right now, that's what they ought to be making. Workers right now understand that people need to come before profits — hopefully their bosses can figure that out too, before it's too late.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse