Workers demand permanent solution to shortage of N95 masks and jobs


“TRUDEAU’S A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT AGAIN,” SAYS ANNE KUZYK. “What we need are millions of N95 masks and the jobs making them. What we don't need is more political grandstanding and a PR stunt from GM.”

Trudeau announced, on May 26, that GM would reopen a small portion of its closed massive Oshawa plant to put 50 people to work to make one million face masks a month. “It’s like a bad joke compared to what they could do,” says Anne.

Anne wants the federal government to do much more. She supports Green Jobs Oshawa, a citizens’ action group, that has joined forces with Unifor Local 222 and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) to demand the federal government use it’s emergency powers to:

• issue an order for GM to use its Oshawa complex to immediately vastly increase production of N95 masks and other essential PPE (personal protective equipment) along with other medical equipment and supplies needed to fight COVID-19

• make this a permanent operation

• use this as the first step towards establishing a Crown Corporation.

Close the N95 gap first

“What we really need at the moment to sustain the health care system is to make the N95 mask,” explains Michael Hurley, president of OCHU.

Canada currently has a shortage of 150 million N95 masks. Canada recently rejected 9.8 million masks from China that failed to meet our Public Health Agency standards.

As of May 19, federal government data showed only a fraction of the millions of gloves, masks, face shields, ventilators and litres of hand sanitizer ordered by the federal government had so far been received.

For example, of 29,570 ventilators ordered, only 203 had been received.

The equipment has been in high demand worldwide, with every country competing for scarce supplies from a limited number of suppliers, mostly in China. Some confirmed orders have been snatched away from Canada by other countries willing to pay more.

The demand is expected to go up now that provinces are easing up on the restrictions imposed in mid-March to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

As businesses open up and more people venture outside their homes, they’ll need masks and other protective gear to prevent spreading the virus.

In addition to the N95 masks, Public Services and Procurement Canada has ordered more than 333 million surgical masks and had received just over 79 million as of May 22.

It has also receive 6.6 million face shields, out of an order for 55.6 million, from Canadian skate-maker Bauer.

Frontline workers feel abandoned

A poll carried out in late March by the Canadian Union of Public Employees found that 87 percent of health care staff in Ontario don’t have adequate PPE to deal with coronavirus patients.

Additionally, 91 percent said they felt abandoned by the government.

“Our hospital members report that supplies are being rationed,” Hurley explained. “There is a sense of abandonment and a building anger that the Ontario government has downgraded its safety protocols.”

Adequate PPE makes a huge difference. In China, where PPE was generally more widely available and higher standards of protection were enforced, medical staff accounted for just 4 percent of all infections. But in Ontario, they accounted for 16 percent of infections as of May 6.

GM effort falls far short

Last December, when GM production was shut down at the plant, 5,000 skilled workers were thrown out of work. The current mask-making plan at the plant only involves 50 workers.

There are 10 million square feet available in the plant. The mask-making operations will use just one third of one per sent of the 10 million square feet.

The Canadian government issued a “call to action” on March 20, calling for companies to manufacture needed equipment.

“But there have been no orders to corporations, no national planning, no co-ordination,” says Green Jobs Oshawa spokesman Tony Leah. “If our governments can mandate workers and remove their collective bargaining rights—they can mandate corporations to meet public needs.”

GM is manufacturing three  million masks per month (surgical and N95) in their Warren, Michigan plant with 140 workers.

“If GM can manufacture N95 masks in Warren...they can manufacture them in Oshawa! They MUST manufacture them in Oshawa!” says Leah.

Support Appreciated

In support of the OCHU’s call, Green Jobs Oshawa has started a petition demanding that the government step in to meet the immediate need for N95 masks, more and better PPE and to act to create a Crown corporation to make sure we are never exposed this way in the future.

You can sign the petition here.

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