The United Auto Workers union is making a bid to organize more than 1,400 workers at an automotive glass plant owned by Chinese investors who refurbished part of a former General Motors assembly plant in the Dayton, OH, suburb of Moraine.
The petition for a representation election filed with the National Labor Relations Board cites what union lawyers describe as a pattern of unsafe workplace conditions, arbitrary policies and unfair and unequal treatment of employees at the Fuyao Glass America plant. The NLRB is expected to set a date shortly.
Fuyao has not responded to telephone messages or emails seeking comment on the UAW's petition to represent hourly workers.
“I’ve been at the plant for two years, and I feel like I’m not going anywhere. It’s as if they put me in one place, and that’s not acceptable to me,” Fuyao employee Teodore Searcy says during a conference call organized by the UAW.
“When I heard about the tax breaks Fuyao received for opening this plant, I thought that would be great for the community, and I wanted to be part of that,” says Searcy, who works the third shift in the Tempering OEM Dept. and is a member of Fuyao Workers Forward, a pro-UAW group of employees.
“Now my concern is that this company can’t help the community if it can’t help its workers and that jeopardizes me, my family and everyone who is depending on Fuyao to be a good citizen,” he says. “But there are a lot of turnover and safety issues. What it comes down to is constantly changing rules and policies.”
Jeremy Grant, another pro-union worker employed at the Moraine plant, says, “During the orientation, the Chinese told us they didn’t want a union.” But as time has gone by, pro-union sentiment has grown steadily, and people in the plant are looking forward to a vote, he says.
“It has been hard because we are all working so hard for the company,” Grant says. “In return, we come to work facing constantly changing rules, communication barriers with our supervisors and no way to be heard about changes that will help us all win.”
Jill Lamantia, another pro-union worker, says it’s difficult to find a job elsewhere and she wants Fuyao to be noted for the quality of its products. At the same time, Moraine employees need more protection, stability and security, she says.
Workers’ pay starts as low as $12.88 an hour. There is no written wage scale or scheduled raises. The company does offer health insurance.
UAW Early Ally of Workers
The UAW has had a presence around the plant almost since it opened in 2015, helping workers file complaints about job safety with the Occupational Health and Safety Admin. that resulted in $226,000 in fines against Fuyao in late 2016.
In a statement issued after the fines were levied, the UAW said: “The fact that OSHA would announce over $226,000 in fines after eight safety inspections for things like personal protective gear, machine hazards and electrical and chemical exposures is a rare and serious situation.
“Fuyao’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of workers cannot go unchecked. The UAW will continue to support the workers who brought these issues to the attention of OSHA.”
Fuyao acquired the GM property in 2014 and opened its first manufacturing plants in the U.S. the following year as it began to expand its presence in the North American market.
Founded in 1987 with help from outside investors, Fuyao Glass is a major presence in China and produces 23% of the world’s car windows. Its list of customers includes most of the world's largest automakers such as Ford, General Motors, BMW, FAW, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Fuyao received substantial government incentives to set up operations at the Moraine plant, which opened in 1951 as a Frigidaire factory and later built various GM truck models until the automaker closed it in December 2008. Fuyao purchased the facility in 2014.
The state of Ohio estimates it granted Fuyao a Jobs Creation Tax Credit of $9.7 million over 10 years. Jobs Ohio provided a $5.6 million economic-development grant, as well as $1 million in workforce training funds. Montgomery County, which includes Dayton and Moraine, provided an additional $1.7 million in assistance through two different programs. The city of Moraine added a 12-year, 100% property-tax abatement for the facility.
Since late 2015, complaints about conditions at the plant have led workers to pursue forming a union. In a statement announcing it had filed a petition for representation with the NLRB, the UAW called for continued improvements to health and safety; fair policies applied equally to everyone; fair wages recognizing workers’ roles in the company’s success; and a reduction in the high turnover rate.
“It’s been like a revolving door here,” Fuyao worker Roberto Martinez says. “There is a very high turnover rate here. Folks are hired and then, poof, they’re gone. It happens over and over again. It can’t be good for the community and the economy when a company can’t retain a stable workforce.”
Adds the UAW’s Rankin: “Fuyao employees have expressed over and over that they chose (to work at) Fuyao because they wanted job security. Community leaders have told us that their hopes are for Fuyao to bring stability to the Dayton community. We all want the company to be successful and want that measure to include quality, stable jobs so that everyone wins.”