Navy, AFGE Local Join Forces to Produce Cloth Masks in Response to Face Mask Shortages

Categories: DoD, The Insider, Coronavirus

It was a story of collaboration and teamwork.

When AFGE and other union leaders representing workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNS) met with senior leadership on March 17 to express dismay at the lack of communication about the coronavirus, the PNS leadership immediately assigned two managers to regularly meet with the unions.

Because of the severity of the outbreak, both managers now work full-time on the COVID-19 issue and update the unions twice daily. If an urgent issue comes up, they will have a teleconference to discuss it.

During those discussions, they discussed the lack of masks available to the workforce. The shipyard had already ordered the procedural masks, but the vendor was not able to provide them due to the high demand. So they decided on the alternative – DIY cloth masks, to be sewn by remote workers who have sewing capability.

They went on to order materials for the mask making, but shipments were delayed. Once they were received, PNS employees went about making kits for the remote workers. Each kit would make 50 masks.

They now have more than 150 remote workers – all of whom are bargaining unit employees – making cloth masks. As of April 15, they have made over 2,374 masks and are still sewing. The masks are going to Navy personnel and the shipyard workforce. Each employee will have several cloth masks issued to them.

“By the time all of our kits are completed, we will be receiving the masks we had originally ordered for our workforce,” said Denise Nemeth-Greenleaf from the AFGE Navy Caucus.

Denise explained that all shipyards have the capability of making masks. As far as she knows, all shipyards are producing masks in their sail lofts.

“This is an excellent example of collaboration between labor and management,” she added.

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