The Pentagon is telling local leaders that the defense industry is essential to the nation’s security so employees of companies like Bath Iron Works in Maine need to stay on the job, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.
When a governor orders businesses to suspend operations if they aren’t necessary because of COVID-19, there is sometimes a “lack of clarity” with some local leaders about defense contractors, Department of Defense officials said.
“We were having particular concerns in the state of California,” said Ellen Lord, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. “We don’t want to have local law enforcement stopping people on the way to work.”
The Pentagon is working with the National Governors Association to make sure they understand the need for defense contractors to continue punching the time clock, even during the pandemic. Undersecretary Lord said she recently spoke with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to make sure the Boeing and BAE Systems plants in his state remain open.
“I will say that the bulk of the defense industry is working today,” she said.
Pentagon officials have sent letters to some defense companies to remind them of their responsibility, even during the pandemic.
“Delivering or redelivering our ships to the fleet is a national need that is unwavering and crucial to our national security,” Assistant Secretary of the Navy James F. Geurts wrote in a memo to the president of the Bath Iron Works in Maine.
“Given the mission essential functions you perform, while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the workforce, I cannot stress enough the importance of accomplishing this mission,” Mr. Geurts added.
Undersecretary Lord said the Pentagon expects defense contractors to follow any health guidelines from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are not asking anyone to do anything differently than all of us are doing - the social distancing, quarantining and so forth,” she said.
Union officials at General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works reported one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the shipyard along with four others who were close contact with the individual who tested positive. They want the employees to be sent home with pay.
“The chances of spreading COVID-19 are great and delaying closure goes against all current health recommendations,” the Maine AFL-CIO said in a statement.
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