GE workers’ union still pushing for negotiations on vaccine mandate

General Electric workers protest the COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the company's Edison Avenue entrance in Schenectady Friday.

General Electric workers protest the COVID-19 vaccination mandate at the company's Edison Avenue entrance in Schenectady Friday.

Monday night talks between GE and union leaders representing roughly 5,000 GE workers haven’t changed the terms of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, according to the business agent for a Schenectady labor group on Tuesday. 

“It’s going to be tough,” acknowledged Christopher DePoalo, the business agent for IUE-CWA Local 301, which has roughly 700 members. “But we’re moving forward with negotiations, trying to get everything we can for our membership.” 

DePoalo said union representatives would next meet with GE on Thursday. 

The Monday meeting held in Cincinnati, where GE has offices, was a followup to Friday’s protest, in which about 200 GE workers, primarily represented by Local 301, marched in front of GE’s Schenectady plant to express opposition to GE’s Oct. 15 announcement requiring all employees be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 or face termination. The notice of the mandate, obtained by The Daily Gazette, also states that all employees disclose their vaccination status in an online GE portal prior to Nov. 24.

DePoalo said his union’s goal is to delay the implementation of the mandate or create a testing protocol that could allow employees who do not wish to be vaccinated to stay on the job.

Todd Alhart, a GE spokesperson, via email on Tuesday said the company will continue to have a dialogue with union representatives. 

“We have and will continue to have discussions with union leadership about our COVID-19 protocols and compliance with the executive order regarding vaccines.” Alhart wrote. “Our focus now is supporting all of our employees through this process.”

Alhart said the mandate came from the federal government, which requires federal contractors to get vaccinated. 

“As a federal contractor, GE is complying with the executive order, which requires employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Alhart said via email on Friday. “All GE U.S. employees will be fully vaccinated or receive a medical or religious accommodation by Dec. 8 as required in the order. We have shared this information with our employees to allow for as much time as possible for employees to get vaccinated if they have not already.” 

DePoalo, who said he himself is not vaccinated because it goes against his Christian faith, estimated that 60% of the roughly 700 Local 301 members were vaccinated.

“This is not a vax or non-vax issue,” DePoalo told fellow protesters on Friday. “This is a workers’ rights issue. GE should have brought us to the table sooner.” 

DePoalo said his members, which include machinists, winders and electricians who build power generators for GE, have expressed a range of issues with COVID-19 vaccines, including that long-term effects are not known and that people who have been vaccinated can still contract the virus. 

“People have a lack of faith,” he said in an interview. “With people with the vaccine still getting sick, it’s hard to say we’re going to enforce this to protect your safety. If you’re still getting sick, how are we protecting people’s safety?”

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracking, unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and 12 times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated people.

DePoalo said he would stay in communication with his membership during negotiations, and that following Thursday’s meeting, future union action may be decided by a vote of the members.


Categories: Business, Schenectady County

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