IBEW members make up receptacles that will supply power for the ventilator assembly stations.

IBEW locals across the country are pitching in to power the facilities being repurposed for production of much-needed ventilators to help with the growing Coronavirus pandemic.

“We love that the IBEW has been able to step up and help like this,” said Kokomo, Ind., Local 873 Business Manager Mike Young, one of the locals whose members are helping ramp up production of the life-saving breathing devices.

Members of Kokomo, Ind., Local 873 are helping to repurpose three floors of a GM plant for ventilator production, with one floor already completed.

As the COVID-19 virus continues to ravage the United States and much of the rest of the world, hospitals are reporting dire conditions related to a lack of supplies to treat the increasing number of patients, including ventilators.

Young says there are about 50 electricians working to retool a General Motors plant in Kokomo that once employed thousands but had dwindled to fewer than 200 before shuttering at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. The project, which includes travelers from Detroit Local 58, has been going on for about two weeks and is expected to be completed around April 15.

IBEW members are working on three different floors to distribute power, Young said, which includes security and elevator work, among other aspects. So far, one floor has been completed.

“Our members have taken this on with a pride I haven’t seen before in other projects,” Young said. “We understand that every minute we work is a minute closer to saving a life.”

Local 401 Business Manager Jacob Haas says their project is beginning this week and will use about 20 members working 70-hour weeks over two shifts. Production is expected to be done by the end of the month." 

Young and Haas both said the facilities are taking all precautions to keep workers safe, from practicing social distancing as much as possible to wearing face masks and other personal protective equipment like gloves. There has also been an increase in restrooms and hand washing stations and a decrease in tool sharing. Young said he had to do a full screening before being allowed on site, which included a temperature check.

Haas said he’s been in conversation with his members about the importance of construction projects like this one, as well as another coronavirus-related project in their area, but that safety, as always, comes first.

“I tell all my members that if they think they’re high risk, or if they need to take care of a loved one, that family comes first,” Haas said.

In Kokomo, Young says a local business, Nonni’s Pizza, donated food for the workers on one shift.

“Morale is high,” Young said. “The community has really rallied around the plant, knowing how important the work is. And our members are working as hard as they can.”

GM says that once mass production begins, it will scale up to 10,000 critical care ventilators or more per month, reported the Detroit Free Press.

According to the Kokomo Tribune, experts have said hundreds of thousands of new machines could be needed over the course of the pandemic. The U.S. currently has between 160,000 and 200,000 ventilators.