General Electric (GE -0.38%) employees at the company's Massachusetts aircraft engine facility held a protest Monday to urge the company to shift to ventilator production instead of cutting 10% of its aerospace workforce.

On March 23, GE Aviation said it was trimming its workforce and temporarily furloughing about half of its remaining employees for 90 days in response to a global travel slowdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused airlines to cancel flights and ground planes, eating into demand for aircraft engines and replacement parts.

General Electric is attempting to preserve between $500 million and $1 billion to help the company weather a potential extended downturn.

A GE90 engine in a factory.

A GE90 engine. Image source: General Electric.

Nevertheless, during protests at GE's Lynn, Mass., facility and its Boston headquarters, members of the Communication Workers of America urged the company to keep the workers on board and shift production from engines to ventilators. Jake Aguanaga, local union president for a GE facility in Kansas, told Vice that about half of his workforce had been laid off and that significant factory space is sitting idle.

"If GE trusts us to build, maintain, and test engines which go on a variety of aircraft where millions of lives are at stake, why wouldn't they trust us to build ventilators?" Aguanaga told Vice.

In response to the pandemic many large manufacturers, including automakers General Motors and Ford Motor, have pledged to work with medical products manufacturers to increase production of ventilators and other products. On March 27, GM said it will bring back about 1,000 furloughed workers to build ventilators.

GE's healthcare division is already a large producer of ventilators, so the company should have the internal expertise to shift production if it sees fit.