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British Airways will use the GE9X engine for its 777X fleet. (Photo: GE Aviation)

GE Aviation Requests to Assist in COVID-19 Fight, Rebuke Layoffs

In determination to save both its work and help stop the spread of coronavirus, the employees of General Electric staged a protest on Monday to support bringing back furloughed employees and help convert the shuttered GE buildings for ventilator production. The company’s aviation side has been focused on as areas in which would benefit from ventilator work.

General Electric employees have highlighted the drop in usage in aviation facilities in Winfield and Lynn, Kan. as a way to use the facilities to make ventilators. In a comment to Vice, the local union president of the Winfield facility stated how 52 percent of the workforce had been laid off and now there was unused space. He included saying, “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?”

Both the Lynn facility and Winfield facility focus on both aircraft maintenance, repair along with overhaul and engine tooling and testing, which has seen a rapid drop in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled the aviation sector and dropped the demand for overhaul as aircraft are parked.

This protest also comes as fellow branch GE Healthcare announced they would quadruple ventilator production in their Madison, Wis. location. The GE Healthcare line is currently operating at a breakneck pace and a 24-hour operating period in hopes of keeping up with the exponentially increasing amount of coronavirus patients. The patient-orientated branch of General Electric has already teamed up with Ford for increasing ventilator production as well.

But Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton says a vital resource could be right in front of GE to help with production. In a comment to Boston Business Journal, he mentions, “our country depends on these highly skilled workers, and now they wonder why they are facing layoffs, instead of having the opportunity to use their unbelievable skills to help save lives.”

The call for more ventilator construction comes as America tops 100,000 cases and pressure mounts on President Donald Trump to use the Defense Production Act of 1950 to increase medical supplies in the United States. The President has only used the Defense Production Act on car manufacturer General Motors, ordering them to begin production of ventilators and other medical supplies as of March 27. The President had been critical of General Motors days before decreeing what the company should do, citing the abandoned Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio has a location they could use after suspending work on the Chevrolet Cruze in 2019.

Due to the economic slowdown, some companies, such as Ford, have begun moving their work to more healthcare-focused fields in the fight against coronavirus. While GE Healthcare already aids in this effort, the GE Aviation members feel there is more the company can do to combat this current situation.

Alongside the calls for increased ventilator production, there were also calls for increased security measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at GE facilities. The workers believe that additional time to wash hands during the day, custodial staff to spot and intervene if they find someone infected and paid leave for those infected would help the company.

Ian McMurtry
Ian McMurtry
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