General Electric is cutting up to 13,000 jobs in its aviation division, or 25 percent of that group’s global employment, as the Boston-based industrial company responds to a dramatic slowdown in commercial airline traffic because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cuts include those already announced in March to GE Aviation’s US workforce: a 10 percent reduction, affecting 2,600 employees at the time. The impact remains unclear for the GE Aviation complex in Lynn, although the plant’s primary focus is on military work, not commercial contracts. The biggest union at that plant continues to push the company for more protections during the pandemic, and plans to hold a protest at GE’s headquarters on Tuesday, timed with its annual shareholder meeting.
David Joyce, the chief executive of GE Aviation, told employees in a memo on Monday that the “contraction of commercial aviation is unprecedented." The dramatic drop in air travel this spring means fewer jet engine orders and overhauls, which in turn will affect revenue at GE. Executives at the company say they are trying to adjust the size of the business for the new reality. Other cuts that have been implemented include furloughs in the United States and a hiring freeze.
“To protect our business, we have responded with difficult cost-cutting actions over the last two months,” Joyce wrote. “Unfortunately, more is required as we scale the business to the realities of our commercial market.”
The job cuts are part of an effort, announced last week by GE chief executive Larry Culp on the company’s first-quarter earnings call, to wring some $1 billion in savings out of the GE Aviation business. However, Culp also pointed out on that call that demand for GE Aviation’s military business remains strong.
That bodes well for GE’s Lynn plant, where most of the work is for military contracts. About 2,600 people, including salaried and hourly employees, work at the sprawling 20-building campus, which stretches across 160 acres.
Spokesman Perry Bradley said the impact from the latest job cuts will vary by site depending on factors including the product mix, customer base, and voluntary budget cuts. The job-cut decisions, he said, will play out in the coming months.
Adam Kaszynski, president of the IUE-CWA Local 201 representing about 1,260 workers in Lynn, said he’s hopeful the plant’s military focus will insulate it from major layoffs. “We have a lot of work on the books,” he said.
But he said he remains worried about safety. Local 201 has been pushing GE during the pandemic for more protections at the plant, which remains open under Governor Charlie Baker’s shutdown because its work is deemed an essential service. Kaszynski said the company started mandatory temperature checks with infrared thermometers at the door at Local 201′s request, a practice that GE says began on April 6.
Kaszynski, however, still wants a more consistent supply of personal protective equipment: masks, gloves, hand sanitizer. He said he still receives reports of it running out in places. “Their distribution system is not working,” Kaszynski said.
Local 201 is also frustrated that GE isn’t doing a deeper cleaning at the plant between shifts, he said. “If you can’t guarantee that you can come into a clean place, that’s not acceptable,” he said. “It’s gotten better than where we started but it’s still nowhere near where we need to be.”
Kaszynski said Local 201 will participate in a protest at the GE headquarters in Boston on Tuesday, to highlight these safety concerns and to raise concerns that work is moving overseas to nonunion locations.
Bradley, meanwhile, said GE Aviation’s “number one priority” is employee health and safety, and that the company moved quickly to implement “multiple layers of safety” across the globe to protect workers during the pandemic. In particular, the company has posted a long list of sanitization measures it is undertaking at the Lynn plant. The company said it has spent 10 times the plant’s normal cleaning budget for the year so far.