GE Healthcare in Madison lays off about 140 workers as ventilator production slows

MADISON, Wis. — More than 90 employees at General Electric Datex-Ohmeda in Madison were laid off on Friday, January 15, the second round of layoffs following a decrease in production of ventilators and anesthesia machines. Friday’s layoffs followed a round of about 50 employees laid off in December 2020, according to the district chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) union.

The Madison plant ramped up hiring efforts last spring with about 250 employees brought on to increase ventilator production after General Electric received a $336 million contract under the Defense Production Act in April 2020 to produce 50,000 ventilators by June 13, 2020. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Madison plant last April to highlight the increased production.

“These orders have now been fulfilled and in response to lower ongoing demand, we are making adjustments that impact a portion of the 250 additional employees hired last year,” a spokesperson for GE Healthcare told News 3 Now. GE Healthcare did not explicitly acknowledge the layoffs announced by the union, but said the “adjustments” did not reflect the performance or dedication of the impacted employees.

IAM District 10 business representative Joe Terlisner said that while they had expected a dropoff after ventilator production hit peak, there are concerns in the union that the job losses may impact Madison more heavily–with jobs continuing at other plants or moved overseas.

“The long term business plan of GE, is it continue those productions at other facilities and/or overseas? Or is to keep jobs in Madison and continue to employ those employees that were hired throughout this last year?” Terlisner said. “Now that we’ve ramped up and have started ramping down, we’re still over employment levels that we were in early 2020.”

In their statement, GE Healthcare said they planned to work with employees to explore other opportunities for them within the company, and that they “remain committed to Madison and the state of Wisconsin, where we employ thousands of people across the state.” The company recently announced plans to invest in a new plant in west Milwaukee that would eventually employ 1,200 people but would also involve the sale of its existing Waukesha plant and shift of employees from its current plant in west Milwaukee. In total, the company employs about 6,000 people in the state.

IAM Local 1406, IAM District 10 and GE Datex-Ohmeda negotiated a one-year emergency contract extension in March last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed GE salary and production employees to work alongside each other for a few months to meet global production needs, the union said. The ongoing medical equipment need resulted in additional hires throughout the year.

“The union worked hard during this pandemic and was quickly able to train their union brothers and sisters in an effort to increase production as quickly as possible,” Alex Hoekstra said in a statement, Directing Business Representative for IAM District 10. “I hope the company continues to invest in the facility and employees. The hard working members impacted by the layoff deserve to return to a quality job.”

Laid off employees will retain up to two-year call back rights under the current collective bargaining agreement.

GE has not yet responded to a request for comment. This article will be updated.