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EB workers at least deserve profit sharing

"I don't want to bring it home to my family," is how one Electric Boat worker described his greatest fear of working in crowded shipyard spaces in this time of coronavirus.

"The petri dish" is how one wife described her husband's workplace at the shipyard these days.

"It's going to spread like wildfire," an EB worker predicted when I chatted with him this week about the growing number of shipyard workers who have tested positive. The company reported 13 cases Tuesday, seven more than on Friday.

A new case of a tradesperson who was working in a crowded building as recently as last week has workers especially on edge.

If it were up to me, I would shut the place down. So submarines are delivered a few months late. The country might lose a few months in designing new ships. Are those worries worth the risk to the region's collective well-being?

Don't we have enough nuclear weapons for the time being?

I'll accept the notion that I don't have all the facts and am not in a position to determine the full impact of putting Electric Boat on pause for the pandemic.

Of course I understand you can't just empty the place out and lock it down, as the tribes thankfully did with their casinos. A shipyard shutdown protecting critical assets would look different.

But I do know that Electric Boat could do a whole lot more for its employees if it indeed must put them and their families at risk for the sake of national defense.

After all, even grocery and pharmacy chains are paying bonuses for employees putting themselves in harm's way doing essential work.

Why can't EB parent General Dynamic do something more for its workers while making enormous profits from public tax dollars? How about sharing some of those profits with employees during the pandemic, instead of continuing to scoop them off the table for shareholders?

Pick a number. How about, for instance, 20% of shipyard profits for the next six months go to the workers who are putting themselves and their families at risk to see that deadlines are met and contract payments are made.

If I could assign a pandemic job to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who has secured so many rich contracts for General Dynamics, it would be to help the corporation determine a fair formula for the shipyard workers deemed essential to national defense to share in the profits they are helping generate during this health crisis.

It's good to know that the company finally acknowledges that it has been late in creating new protocols to protect workers. Adding a separate shift so conditions are less crowded should have happened much sooner. The company just started asking employees to take their temperature before going to work and stay home if it is higher than 100 degrees.

EB workers I spoke with, who wanted to remain anonymous to protect their jobs, say there hasn't been good direction until recently on proper workplace distancing and the use of masks. They say the cleaning crews are understaffed and overworked. Empty sanitizer dispensers are not filled promptly.

If the company would go into a pause, laid-off employees would be eligible for unemployment compensation. If they can't stop the shipbuilding in Groton, couldn't they at least close all those densely crowded cubicles for designers in New London?

Maybe Gov. Ned Lamont should consider whether designing submarines is as essential as building them.

The company so far has offered only a "loan" of vacation time, so that you can add two weeks off to whatever other leave you are entitled to. That extra vacation time on loan would have to eventually be paid back, in weekly increments.

Workers who are really scared or especially vulnerable because of health conditions also can take unpaid leave during the crisis without consequence. But that's a hard choice for people with mortgage and car payments.

Some can work from home.

Front-line medical workers are risking their health to help save lives. Many other essential workers are helping feed people and get them medicine.

If EB workers are really needed to keep our war machine humming during a pandemic, they ought to at least share in the enormous profits that are still being made.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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