In late March, when workers at GE Appliances, a Haier company in Louisville, Kentucky, were mandated to work during the COVID-19 crisis, members of IUE-CWA Local 83761 sprung into action to make sure they were protected on the job. While the plant was shut down for one week, Local 83761 President Dino Driskell reached out to Gov. Andy Beshear and other elected officials who agreed to send letters to Haier calling for stronger workplace safety measures. The local’s internal organizing team, led by Kindre Batliner, organized some 1,000 members for a “drive-by” rally on March 28, calling on Haier to keep the plant closed until stronger safety and health protocols were in place.
“That rally was tremendous, the morale really lifted after that. The company wasn’t even willing to talk to us before,” said Ashley Snider, vice president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO and IUE-CWA staff. “Thanks to the members' political action and the rally, Haier really started to listen to our concerns.”
Since the rally, workers at GE Appliance Park secured new safety protections, such as plastic barriers around workstations and other social distancing measures. Most notably, members of Local 83761 won a $2 an hour hazard pay raise and a flexible leave policy for workers at high risk from the coronavirus and those who have child care needs.
Members of Local 83761 have also donated extra face masks to other essential workers in the Louisville area, including members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1447, UAW Local 822 and Teamsters Local 783. However, the union is still working to get additional protective equipment in Louisville and is supporting similar member mobilization campaigns at shops across the country, including a GE plant in Madisonville, Kentucky, that builds plane engines and has several positive COVID-19 cases.
Snider is leveraging her relationships with political leaders to help those who have been laid off to start receiving unemployment benefits. After spending countless hours on hold trying to get more information on benefit issues members were having, Snider contacted Morgan McGarvey, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, who connected her directly with the manager of the local unemployment office who was able to speed up the benefit approval process for many of the workers the union represents. She explained: “Elections matter, and the people in office can actually affect our lives in a big way.”
As the labor movement looks toward the future, this crisis is demonstrating how every worker needs to be protected on the job. IUE-CWA has been receiving calls from employees in other plants asking how they can join the union. “We’re all in this together. It’s a scary time, but I’m so glad I have my union family and I know I’m supported,” Snider said. "And many workers without a union are starting to understand the value of having support on the job."
In an effort to further protect workers and ensure that our country has the tools and resources we need to fight this pandemic, the IUE-CWA is calling on GE to produce ventilators in its empty shops. To support its effort, you can sign IUE-CWA's petition.