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Lynn’s GE union asking for paid time off during COVID-19 outbreak

By Gayla Cawley | March 20, 2020

LYNN — A union representing the city’s General Electric employees is concerned about the aviation plant’s “unsafe work environment” caused by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and is seeking two weeks of paid leave.

The International Union of Electric Workers (IUE) Local 201 represents 1,262 employees of the city’s GE Aviation River Works plant who are continuing to report to work despite city- and statewide closures of schools, businesses and public establishments, according to union President Adam Kaszynski.

Although there have been no reported cases in Lynn yet, employees are “terrified” that they will contract the virus at work, which would not only compromise their own health, but that of their families back home, Kaszynski said.

Union membership, he said, includes 305 people who are age 60 or older and many who have a serious underlying medical condition, the two groups the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified as being most at-risk of developing severe coronavirus illness.

Kaszynksi said the union has been working with General Electric brass since March 6 on how to best address the health concerns created by the global COVID-19 outbreak, and has chosen to negotiate for an additional two weeks of paid time off for all union employees.

“A lot of people cannot afford to live on unpaid time or 60 percent disability pay,” said Kaszynski. “Expanding our sick time is the way that we feel this is going to be best addressed. We’re just trying to get through this crisis right now. We need (to give) people who are worried about their families the ability to afford to stay home. Right now, the plant is unsanitary from a COVID-19 perspective.”

The additional time off would also benefit those who are having difficulty securing childcare at a time when Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered a statewide temporary closure of schools and daycare centers, Kasyznski said.

How much sick or vacation time an employee is allotted in their union contract depends on their time of service. About a third of the plant has less than three weeks paid time off, and some people have already used up some of their time for vacations, Kaszynski said. Once their paid time is up, they can request unpaid time off, he said.

“We also feel that during a global pandemic it’s not really fair to ask people to use their vacation time because they’re reporting to an unsafe work environment,” said Kaszynski.

GE spokesman Richard Gorham said the company has taken a number of steps to ensure the safety and well-being of its employees at the Lynn plant.

“GE Aviation’s No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our employees,” said Gorham in a statement. “We are working closely with local governments, the World Health Organization, and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to actively monitor the outbreak and take all necessary precautions.

“We are in constant communication with employees, customers, suppliers, and governments to maintain business continuity across our enterprise. We will continue to monitor this unprecedented situation and adjust our site protocols and guidelines as warranted. We also remain committed to delivering products to support our military and commercial customers during this trying period.”

The company’s precautions at the Lynn plant have included:

Increased cleaning and disinfecting of common areas.
Closing the site’s fitness center and cafeteria.
Prohibiting in-person meetings of more than 10 people, per CDC guidelines.
Frequently restocking soap in the restrooms.
Conducting Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) walkthroughs of shops to identify any potential issues or needs.
Screening all visitors for signs of COVID-19.
Ending shifts 15 minutes early to clean workstations and to increase social distancing between shifts.
The company said it plans to implement additional precautions at the Lynn plant, which are aimed at enhancing social distancing, the strategy that’s been identified as most important in curbing the spread of the virus, and cleaning regimens.

Groups will have their own entrances, bathrooms and break rooms, and salaried workers will be divided into two teams, who will work alternating two-week remote shifts. In addition, machines will be sanitized before and after each shift, according to GE.

The COVID-19 outbreak was first reported in Wuhan, China, and has since spread around the globe. As of Thursday, there have been 328 confirmed cases in Massachusetts, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.