Travel

GE Aviation employees protest vaccine mandate, say travel delays likely if employees fired over vaccine

Employees of GE Aviation in Lafayette, Indiana, gathered outside the plant Wednesday to protest the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

GE Aviation announced the mandate last Friday, and workers warned that if the company, which makes commercial airplane engines at the plant, doesn’t back down “airline travel delays may continue.”

“We were kind of hoping that GE would kind of stand up for us, but Thursday we heard the rumor that they were going to mandate it on Friday,” James Crismore, one of the organizers of the protest, said Wednesday.

About 50 people protested outside the plant on Wednesday starting at 1 p.m. The protest included employees and supporters, including people from Purdue University and others from the nearby Rolls Royce plant.

Crismore said that while the initial announcement last Friday sounded “neutral” and it seemed as though the company was just doing what it had to do, the religious exemption form that followed took everyone by surprise.

The form is six pages long and asks employees seeking an exemption to explain why their religious objection is “limited to particular vaccines” and asks if the conflict between their religious beliefs and the vaccine requirement relates to the “purported use of fetal cells in the development and/or testing of a COVID-19 vaccine.” It then asks them to explain why taking aspirin, Tums, Pepto Bismol, Lipitor, Benadryl, Sudafed, Preparation H, Acetaminophen, Zoloft, or a number of other common medications doesn’t conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

“For anybody that’s religious, it’s pretty offensive,” says Crismore, saying the way it’s worded makes it sound as though the company is trying to “trick” employees.

In response to questions about the company’s vaccine mandate, GE sent the following statement by e-mail:

“As a federal contractor, GE is complying with the executive order which requires employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. All GE U.S. employees will be fully vaccinated or receive a medical or religious accommodation by December 8th as required in the order.”

A spokesperson for the company said Wednesday that he did not have any additional information.

Crismore said the company’s online information shows that only about a third of the employees at the GE Aviation facility in Lafayette have been vaccinated. The other two-thirds have not been, or if they have and have not entered the information into the system.

The GE Aviation plant opened in Lafayette in 2015, and Crismore began working there the following year as an assembly and test technician. He says he also acts as an assessor and does hiring for the plant.

Workers at the 300,000-square-foot facility make LEAP engines for the Boeing 737 Max and the Airbus A320neo – two planes using by many commercial airline companies. In an interview in October of 2020, Renato Vidal, the plant leader, said workers produce 10-12 of the LEAP engines per week.

In 2020 workers at the plant also began to produce two to three high-performance Passport engines per week, for the Bombardier Global 7500 series.

The Lafayette plant is also involved with the maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft.

The company has been on a hiring binge, with plans to ramp up to 300 employees, with new hires being paid a starting wage of more than $30 an hour.

Crismore says the company had an “all-hands” meeting Tuesday to field questions about the vaccine mandate, and employees were told if they didn’t have proof of vaccination or an exemption by Dec. 8, they’d be fired.

He said employees had worked overtime and irregular shifts, as needed, during the COVID-19 pandemic and feel like they’ve stuck by the company’s side all the while.

“It feels like a knife in the back, honestly,” he said of the vaccine mandate.

A call placed to the GE Aviation plant in Lafayette seeking comment from management was not immediately returned Wednesday.

In addition to Lafayette, GE Aviation has a manufacturing plant in Terre Haute, Indiana. Employees at the Terre Haute plant are planning a protest of the company’s vaccine mandate on Friday.