In the wake of the United Auto Workers’ first public rally in the region, leaders of Fuyao Glass America say they’re confident most workers are hearing their preference to work together directly, without what they call the “interference” of a union.
But labor experts caution that the United Auto Workers — which has representatives in Dayton trying to collect workers’ signatures for a hoped-for representation election at Fuyao — does not give up.
Fuyao and its Moraine workforce recently formed a safety committee of employees and managers, one that meets regularly to air issues, said Eric Vanetti, Fuyao Glass America’s vice president, human resources. Communication has improved, plant leaders say, and last month, the plant gave production workers a raise of $2 an hour.
Fuyao’s plant off West Stroop Road is a former General Motors factory where workers had been represented by the IUE-CWA before the plant closed in 2008. There, Fuyao has about 1,500 hourly production workers.
To schedule a National Labor Relations Board-overseen election to let workers decide on being represented by the UAW, the union must collect signatures of at least 30 percent of production workers. Union leaders say they want to hit a percentage well above that — but they’re not saying how many signatures have been collected so far.
The UAW said it had “75 to 100” Fuyao workers sign attendance sheets at its recent Sunday rally in Dayton. If 100 Fuyao workers were on hand, that’s about 6.6 percent of the plant’s production workforce.
“We feel the reported turnout at Sunday’s meeting reflects the feelings of the vast majority of our employees on this subject,” Vanetti said after the rally.
Chris Kershner, vice president, public policy for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the attendance number is telling.
“That number really signals to me that there are a lot of people, 94 percent of the people right now who work at Fuyao, who are happy with their employer,” he said.
Kershner said he believes Fuyao is taking care of its employees, citing the recent pay raise, the company’s decision to build a restaurant on plant property and what he sees as a renewed focus on safety.
“They (the UAW) are really trying to convince them (Fuyao workers) to buy something they don’t need,” he said.
However, Ken Lortz, a UAW regional director in Ohio, said attendance was good.
“I was pleased with that,” Lortz said. “Being as it’s the first one, our first rally, I was really pleased with that. I thought getting 75 people there, with the anti-(union) campaign that the employer is running, it takes a courage” to attend such a rally.
Unions face inherent disadvantages, he said. Fuyao has a “captive audience.” Workers come to work daily, and there the company is free to deliver its message.
“We have to get workers to a meeting like we had Sunday,” Lortz said. “Workers are coming there on their off-time after they’re working all week … it’s clearly not a fair advantage.”
David Jacobs, an Ohio State University professor emeritus of sociology who has studied labor relations, said rally attendance isn’t the best mechanism to measure enthusiasm.
“Public events are idiosyncratic,” Jacobs said. “I have a tendency not to go to them.”
But he and others also said union victories these days can be sporadic and often in industries other than automotive.
Organizers with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to win over a majority of some 3,000 Boeing workers in South Carolina in February.
With stronger auto sales, UAW membership rose by more than 5,000 in 2015 to 408,639, according to UAW U.S. Department of Labor filings. But membership is still well below its historic height of about 1.5 million in 1979.
The UAW lost an election to represent a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga in 2014, falling short 712 to 626. But the UAW set up a local chapter after a second election the next year for a smaller group of maintenance workers. VW has sued the NLRB after approval of that union.
Labor experts say it’s unwise to count the UAW out.
Marick Masters, director of Labor@Wayne at Wayne State University in Detroit, said a strong rally attendance would demonstrate strong union support. He doesn’t agree that weak attendance shows the opposite.
“I would not be dismayed, shocked or necessarily discouraged,” Masters said. “I think you need to look at these (union) campaigns on a long-term basis. There’s obviously something that the UAW is tapping into.”
Winning elections among auto parts makers and with foreign transplants — as a company, Chinese-owned Fuyao is both — is difficult, experts say.
“Most of the unionization now is in the public sector,” Jacobs said.
Lortz promises “an ongoing fight.”
“The best organizers out there are poor managers, and Fuyao has certainly had its failures.” he said.
Plant managers say they’re focused on their business and doing right by employees.
Said Vanetti, “We don’t talk about (the UAW). We just try to demonstrate that we’re trying to work together to improve every day and listen to (workers’) ideas and suggestions, get their input and feedback.”