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Electric Boat's Commitment To Stay Open Raises Questions About COVID-19 Threat

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The threat of COVID-19 exposure remains high, and it’s becoming clear that people could get sick if they show up to work. Groton’s Electric Boat is one of the state’s largest employers, and some of its workers aren’t happy with the submarine builder’s response to the potential spread of coronavirus.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, President Donald Trump said this week that no more than 10 people should gather in a group. For many companies, that has meant closures or having people work from home.

But Electric Boat remains open.

A recent Facebook post by EB informed employees that the company wouldn’t yet close and prompted people to work from home if they had permission from a director.

Mary Cryan, a test engineer at the shipyard, calls that advice “irresponsible to the extreme.”

“To build the boat, we have a lot of people on it at one time, and I’ve worked in the yard -- I’m in engineering now -- but I’ve worked in the yard, and you are elbow to elbow with a dozen other people at any given time doing your job,” she told Connecticut Public Radio. “With the direction we’re being given from the CDC and the WHO to give people space, it is exactly the opposite of that.”

Cryan wasn’t the only person to respond to the Facebook post.

“Why not just say we don't care what happens to you we have profit to make,” wrote Nick Iannone.

Linda Martel Quattrucci wrote that she felt she wasn’t valued as an employee.

“So, basically, some, mostly executives and supervisors, can stay home safely and get paid and not have to use PTO while the rest of us have to chance our health and safety because we cannot afford to stay home and don’t have much PTO,” Martel Quattrucci said.

A company spokesperson said Electric Boat is abiding by “government-recommended measures” to prevent COVID-19 exposure and that it remains committed to shipbuilding for the Navy.

Not every Facebook user disagreed with EB’s decision to stay open.

“I’d much rather be in the shipyard putting a submarine together then being somewhat stuck at home, it wouldn’t be a vacation,” said Barry Olsen, a shipfitter at EB. “If I feel sick.... I’ll call in and not go in.”

Cryan, the test engineer, affirms that the company is taking some preventative measures to mitigate COVID-19 exposure; she’s not sure how it’s possible to limit interaction between shipbuilders working in close proximity to one another.

“They have modified some of the seating in the cafeteria, near the space that I work out of,” Cryan said. “They’ve offered flexible work weeks to folks who can take advantage of it, so they are trying some things.” She hopes that EB will shut down if a worker there tests positive for COVID-19.

The Metal Trades Council, the union representing waterfront workers at EB and 100,000 metal trades employees nationwide, said it’s received hundreds of complaints from workers who are worried about getting sick while on the job.

This post has been updated.