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Gov. Lamont help us: Shut down Electric Boat

When I suggested earlier this week that Electric Boat, deemed essential because of national defense, should better compensate workers as it catches up to woefully inadequate workplace protections against coronavirus, I didn't fully understand why the defense contractor is putting its employees, their families and the region at such risk.

Naively, I accepted the assertion that continued submarine building is critical to national defense.

It turns out, we learn from an interview U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney gave The Day this week, it is bonus incentives from the government to produce submarines on time, big money, that has apparently led to the reckless, full-speed ahead program at the shipyard, pandemic be damned.

Courtney disclosed new negotiations with the Pentagon to mitigate penalties if the shipyard fails to meet its deadlines.

When asked why adjusted schedules weren't negotiated much earlier in the crisis, Courtney said: "I can't answer that question ... but that's a good question."

The question was put to you, Congressman, and shame on you for not having an answer, as Electric Boat grows into eastern Connecticut's most ominous coronavirus hot spot.

And shame on you for not interceding to protect your constituents and evidently siding instead with the greedy corporate decision-makers who donate so generously to your campaigns.

"EB's employees have shown remarkable loyalty and commitment to showing up for work," the congressman outrageously said in the interview. How much more clueless could he be?

They are frightened, not loyal. They have bills to pay. And since the shipyard, trying to maximize its production incentives from the government, won't pay them while not working, or even lay them off, they have no choice but to report to work, as worrisome a choice that may be.

Or they can stay home and get neither pay nor unemployment, a grim option some are taking. Or they are given a choice to "borrow" two weeks of vacation.

The congressman needs to stop listening to the corporate titans he has enabled with bounteous submarine contracts and pay attention to the constituents who are at their mercy in this health crisis.

One mother expressed to me her anxiety when her husband, exposed in the crowded EB spaces, has to come home and share a bathroom and kitchen.

As the number of EB cases ticked up to 17 this week, it doesn't take an epidemiologist to see that the chain of contagion is going to spread from those homes into the community.

I would make a plea on behalf of southeastern Connecticut to Gov. Ned Lamont to shut down this horror show. The only thing essential going on there is filling corporate coffers.

The shipyard's efforts at mitigation are way too little and too late. The company is still only talking about making masks.

Employees tell me EB is lying when it makes public declarations about aggressive cleaning protocols. Empty hand sanitizer dispensers aren't even being filled, they say. The company says it is keeping high-traffic areas clean.

Workers tell me they have to crowd through exit turnstiles at the close of their shifts, a crowd scene now horrific in the time of coronavirus.

No matter what happens next, the damage is done and the virus is most certainly going to spread more through the region as a result.

At least slow it down. Keep the small number of people needed to protect critical assets and lay the rest of the employees off. Let them collect unemployment and try to keep their families safe.

Gov. Lamont, don't fall any longer for the pitch for national defense. It's about the money.

The gaming tribes shut down their casinos when you asked because it's the right thing to do. I thank them for acting responsibly so swiftly. It is costing them an awful lot of money.

It's time the congressman's campaign contributors take a hit.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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