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GE union demanding two-week shutdown due to virus

By Gayla Cawley | April 3, 2020

LYNN — Following weeks of citing health and safety concerns, the union representing more than 1,200 workers at Lynn’s GE Aviation plant demanded a two-week paid shutdown of the factory Thursday.

The demand came a day after the labor union, IUE-CWA Local 201, was told an employee at the Lynn plant had tested positive for the coronavirus, which brought a week’s worth of tensions to the boiling point. 

A GE employee said there’s been at least three positive COVID-19 diagnoses in the Lynn plant. 

Workers at the city’s River Works plant held protests on Monday and Tuesday, citing the company’s failure to address their safety concerns at the plant amid the outbreak. 

“We have been demanding PPE (personal protective equipment), sanitizer, and spray bottles for disinfectant for weeks,” reads a union membership letter posted on Facebook. “We have not seen systematic sanitization in the buildings. We lack social distancing in many areas. And the virus is now here in the plant.

“We have tried to convince GE Lynn to adopt safer protocols and policies, and what we have seen is too little too late. Our position is that the company’s sick leave policy is a disaster waiting to happen.”

According to the letter, the union informed General Electric representatives Thursday morning that workers wanted a two-week paid shutdown immediately, in addition to its earlier requests for an additional two weeks of paid sick leave and increased sanitation in the building. 

The union said earlier this week that the company did not adequately sanitize the building after an employee was sent home last Friday after he reported he was exposed to the virus at home through a family member. 

The incident, which prompted some employees to take a sick day, preceded protests where workers also called on the company to use the Lynn plant for ventilator production for hospitals around the country. 

“A two-week period would give the union the opportunity to fight for our safety demands, protocols, sick time, get adequate PPE, and let the company implement temperature testing and other changes important to the safety of the membership,” the letter reads. “We did not want to get to this point. However, we must think of those among our ranks (who are) most vulnerable, and those back at home.”

However, the company said the employee mentioned in the union’s letter has not been in the facility since March 12 and did not exhibit any symptoms of the virus until three days after that time. The claims of other two positive tests were not addressed.

GE Aviation has been in contact with that employee to monitor their health and wellbeing. In compliance with public health protocols, the company said it has determined there was not a need for additional contact tracing since more than 48 hours had passed between their last day of work and the first day of symptoms. 

“While it is not required by health protocols, out of an abundance of caution, we cleaned and thoroughly disinfected the work area on multiple occasions, including (Wednesday),” the company said. “Based on the CDC protocols, the site is safe for employees to work.”  

Company representatives say they have been actively increasing health and safety measures at the plant, which has included doubling its annual cleaning budget, with more precautions set to go into effect this week. 

Starting Friday at 11 p.m., the company will be closing “key manufacturing and assembly areas” for an intensive cleaning and disinfection, which will be coupled with its daily cleaning routine. The designated plants and areas will remain closed until Sunday at 10 p.m. and the deep clean will continue each weekend until further notice, according to a GE spokesman. 

On Monday, the company will begin to implement temperature checks for all employees and others entering the facility through use of non-touch infrared thermometers.

“Our No. 1 priority is and always will be employee health and safety, and we continue to evaluate and improve the safety protocols that enable our facility to continue to provide essential, mission-critical equipment to the Armed Forces,” said GE spokesman Richard Gorham. “Our employees are the heart of our operation, and we recognize and appreciate their commitment. 

“Successfully confronting this challenge depends on a constructive partnership that combines company hygiene protocols with individual actions and an open dialogue on how we can continue to improve our safety measures as this crisis evolves.”