Updated at 5:19 p.m. with a statement from Johnson Controls Inc.
In more than a dozen Johnson Controls Inc. manufacturing plants across the country, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers are demanding better COVID-19 protections in the workplace such as paid sick leave, plant sanitation, personal protective equipment and hazard pay.
Essential workers at Johnson Controls plants in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, and California worry that the company-wide response to COVID-19 for its essential workers could lead to outbreaks and cause shutdowns. According to SMART, there have been 27 reported cases of COVID-19 by either workers or management in five plants.
The Johnson Controls' Tarboro, North Carolina plant had to temporarily shut down, and some workers have stayed home without pay or unemployment.
“Having two kids with medical issues I risk bringing this home to them. I don't feel it's too much to ask for financial supplement in this crisis,” says Christy Best, a SMART member working at a Johnson Controls plant in Parsons, Kansas.
In Jose Herrera's plant in Mira Loma, California, “Four cases of COVID-19 have already arisen in this plant,” he explains.
In total, 29 SMART Shop Stewards signed a letter to their coworkers launching the safety petition with the following message: “We can’t afford for JCI to wait another day before they take company-wide action. It is more important than ever that we stand together.”
According to SMART, 130 members of SMART Local 2 in Albany, Missouri, walked out from the plant on Monday over a punitive attendance policy and mandatory overtime at the Johnson Controls plant. They voted management’s proposal down 98-32 on May 15, and the issues have become health and safety concerns since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Johnson Controls workers in Albany are allowed three (3) unpaid personal days per year, and management recently rejected SMART’s bargaining proposal, partly, for not providing one (1) additional unpaid day. The SMART Local 2 members help produce rooftop units and other custom solutions under the brands York, Tempmaster, Fraser-Johnston, Champion, Coleman and Luxaire.
Even “If you have a fever or headaches and you leave work or don’t come in, you have to test positive for COVID-19 or will be assessed points,” says Anthony Fletchall, SMART Bargaining team member at JCI in Albany, Missouri.
More from SMART on attendance policies at Johnson Controls factories:
Existing attendance policies provide workers in Lexington, Kentucky, and Mira Loma, California, up to five sick days per year. Workers in Parsons, Kansas, get sixteen (16) hours paid sick leave per year, and in Huntsville, Alabama, they get one (1) paid sick day per year. Workers in Ponca City, Oklahoma, Tarboro, North Carolina, and El Paso, Texas, have no sick leave at all. In Huntsville, Alabama, Albany, Missouri, Ponca City, Oklahoma, Parsons, Kansas, and Lexington, KY the company is not providing any additional sick leave for COVID-19 quarantines, even with a doctor recommended quarantine or when management sends people home due to exposure.
In an earnings call on May 1, 2020, Johnson Controls CEO George Oliver told investors that protecting employees “has always been a top priority” and says the company formed a “crisis command team” led by the Employee Health & Safety division to “ensure our factories … could operate safely.”
In response to SMART's safety petition demanding greater COVID-19 protections and actions for sheet metal workers, Johnson Controls Inc. provided the following statement to SNIPS:
The health and safety of our employees is our highest priority and since the outbreak of COVID-19, Johnson Controls has practiced stringent health and safety practices in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local governments. This has included mandatory use of company-provided or approved face coverings and temperature screening of all individuals entering our plants, physical distancing and regular cleaning and sanitization. Further, the allegation Johnson Controls refused to conduct a dialogue with union representatives is false. Johnson Controls has provided the Union regular updates on our COVID-19 actions across our facilities.
SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers reportedly represents 1,900 JCI workers in 11 American states, as well as over 100,000 skilled craftpersons in the HVAC and sheet metal trades who install and service union-label products. The organization is one of North America’s most dynamic and diverse unions with 203,000 members.