Conditions at Hyundai supplier Lear not sitting well with UAW

Conditions at Hyundai supplier Lear not sitting well with UAW.

UAW Takes Lear Organizing Demands to Shareholders

Protesters voiced UAW demands for better wages and respect for workers’ right to join a union, particularly in the South, where anti-union sentiment is high. The Lear plants at the center of the protest are located in Alabama and are non-union.

The feud between the UAW and Lear intensifies as nearly 300 union members protest in front of the company’s Southfield, MI, headquarters during the automotive supplier’s annual shareholders meeting.

Protesters sounded off May 14 on a couple of the UAW’s key themes: better wages and respect for workers’ right to join a union, particularly in the South, where opposition to unionization is fierce. The two Lear plants at the center of the protest are located in the heart of Alabama and are non-union.

Cynthia Estrada, the UAW vice president in charge of the negotiations with Lear, emphasizes the protest is about the workers who have to live with Lear’s disregard for workplace health and safety. Lear makes substantial profits while paying workers what she describes as substandard wages.

Lear spokesman Mel Stephens says the company is surprised by both the activity around the shareholders meeting and the union’s attitude. “We’ve always had a good relationship with the UAW and the unions we deal with around the world,” he adds.

Stephens says Lear will continue to oppose the union’s efforts to organize workers at the Selma, AL, plant operated by Lear subsidiary Renosol. The plant’s 90 employees manufacture foam for seat cushions and headrests used in seats supplied by Lear to the Hyundai Motor Mfg. Alabama assembly plant in nearby Montgomery.

Renosol workers were to vote last June on whether to join the UAW, but the election has been delayed while the National Labor Relations Board investigates an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the union. The complaint accuses Lear of coercive actions such as surveillance, threats, interrogation and improper discipline of employees. The complaint does not cite specific allegations against the company.

Lear Pays More Than UAW-Organized Faurecia Plant, Exec Claims

The union also has an organizing effort under way at the Lear factory in Tuscaloosa, AL, which supplies seats to the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in nearby Vance, according to UAW activists on hand for the protest at Lear headquarters.

The UAW in upcoming national contract talks with General Motors, Ford and FCA US, is demanding an end to the 2-tier wage system in which new hires are paid less than workers already on the payroll when the last contract was negotiated. GM and Ford, however, are thought to be looking for a third-tier wage similar to what Lear employees are paid.

Thomas DiDonato. Lear vice president-labor relations, notes the $13.50 per hour paid in Tuscaloosa is higher than the wages negotiated by the UAW at a plant operated by supplier Faurecia in the same area where workers do the same work.

Participating in the demonstration were Letasha Irby, an employee at the Renosol plant in Selma, and Alfonzia Richardson, an employee at Lear’s Tuscaloosa facility.

Irby was suspended without pay for three days in January for participating in a YouTube video describing Renosol employees’ concerns about exposure to toluene diisocyanate, a chemical used to make seat foam, according to an April 29 report in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Air quality in the Selma plant has been tested seven times with the past year and each time has passed the applicable federal standards, Stephens says. However, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Admin., which conducted some of the tests, called the levels of TDI “problematic” and found evidence of occupational asthma among workers, the Advertiser reported.

“We need a voice,” says Irby, who has worked for Lear for 10 years and makes $12 per hour. “We don't have a voice now.”

Richardson says Lear employees at the Tuscaloosa plant constantly suffer injuries because individual jobs that require bending or lifting are done by hand.

“We have a lot of people with carpal tunnel injuries,” he says. “They (Lear) like to say we’re one big family, but in a real family you get to sit down and talk things over. We don’t have that.”

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