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Union Wants GE To Increase Ventilator Manufacturing


Union workers in Schenectady rallied outside of General Electric today, asking the company to ramp up production of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About 20 members of IUE-CWA Local 301 rallied at noon outside of General Electric’s Schenectady plant. Though the company says it is doubling production of ventilators to meet the demands of the coronavirus outbreak, the IUE workers in Schenectady, as well as at plants in Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia, say they have the ability to increase production.

Scott Fernandez is president of Local 301.

“We’re already deemed essential and we want to come to work and it’s great, we’re producing power generation parts and some of our sister Locals are producing jet engines for the military or other parts of aviation, and we’re coming to work and we’re essential…but it would be a lot nicer during this time, because we all want to help, we’re all great Americans and proud union members…if we could do something to give back in America’s time of need…I think it would be extra special,” said Fernandez.

The message has the support of New York State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, a Rotterdam Democrat whose father was a union employee at GE’s Schenectady plant for 30 years.

“It’s a good idea, General Electric should really be considering this. And I think with the resources they have, with the incentives that are out there and available right now…they certainly would have the support of the community. They could get this up and running and they could do it very quickly,” said Santabarbara.

Democratic Capital Region Congressman Paul Tonko of the 20th District, which includes Schenectady, has continued to call on President Trump to use the Defense Production Act to get more manufacturers to switch production to ventilators.

Here’s Tonko speaking on a conference call with constituents last week.

“Invoke that act to direct domestic manufacturers to step in and address those shortages immediately,” said Tonko.

General Electric responded in a statement via email, saying in part:

“In Schenectady, our Gas Power workforce is fully focused on critical power infrastructure projects that are providing electricity where it’s needed around the world. Their work is critical to supporting a strong, reliable electricity grid. Separately, GE’s healthcare business has already doubled ventilator production and continues to explore additional opportunities to support the fight against COVID-19, prioritizing fast, efficient options to meet this immediate need.”

The union is also makingsafety demands. GE responded to that, saying it has taken “a number of preventive and protective measures” to protect employees, as well as paid-leave policies and meeting needs of employees “who may have unique risk factors or situations.”

On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo releasedthe text of his executive orderto move unused ventilators to hospitals in the greatest need.

Santabarbara, along with many other upstate officials, initially pushed back on the governor’s plan.

The Assemblyman said he’s been in communication with the governor’s team to share his concerns.

“They have assured me that they’re going to working with our local hospitals, they’re going to be asking for the equipment that they can reasonably spare…”

Santabarbara said St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam has 15 ventilators on site, seven of which are anesthesia machines, with five in use. He said Ellis has 41 ventilators on hand, with 21 in use.

Both hospitals have taken in COVID-19 patients from New York City.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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