Fuyao spent nearly $800K with consultant in union battle

Fuyao Glass America paid $747,410 to an Oklahoma-based consulting firm that boasts of helping companies in the art of “union avoidance,” according to a document filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Labor Relations Institute Inc./LRI Consulting Services Inc., based in Broken Arrow, Okla., filed a receipts and disbursements report with the Department of Labor in 2016 that said it was working for Fuyao.

At the time Fuyao was paying LRI, the United Auto Workers was trying to persuade workers in Fuyao’s Moraine plant to form a UAW-represented collective bargaining unit. In November, workers at the Moraine plant, which makes automotive and safety glass for one of every four vehicles on North American roads, overwhelmingly rejected the UAW representation in an election.

That willingness to spend nearly $750,000 shows how serious Fuyao Glass America — the American arm of a Chinese-owned global auto glass producer — took its fight against the UAW, said Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry, Labor, & Economics Group for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“It was super important for them to not have a union,” Dziczek said. “If you’re not making money, and you spend that kind of money (for a consultant), then it was one of your highest priorities to avoid unionization.”

The money spent on the consulting firm was during a time when the glass maker said it was not profitable. Fuyao Glass America, which employs around 2,000 employers and is Ohio’s largest Chinese-owned manufacturing operation, became profitable only recently, according to a company statement released during its fight against the UAW.

“This achievement has not been because of a third party like the UAW,” Tim Reynolds, Fuyao Glass America vice president, said in a statement before the UAW election. “It has been the result of teamwork — our folks coming together, learning how to design, make, and ship good glass and driving improvements in safety and efficiency.”

Fuyao workers voted by a two-to-one margin, 886 to 441, against the union over a day and a half of voting in November.

‘Union avoidance’

Officials with the Labor Relations Institute would not comment for this article, but its website offers a glimpse in the kind of work it does for companies. LRI offers white papers and videos on what it terms “union avoidance,” seeking to school clients in winning representation campaigns, how to communicate with workers and more, the website shows.

One section of the company’s website is devoted to what it calls seven “union lies.”

“They’re pretty dramatic in their approach,” said Marick Masters, director of the Labor@Wayne program at Wayne State University in Michigan.

Hiring such consultants is legal and common, industry experts said.

“The employers see it as: The unions are going to spend a lot of money trying to convince workers one way,” Dziczek said “We’re going to spend a lot of money trying to convince workers the other way.”

It’s a high-risk proposition to try form a union, Masters said.

“Employers take no chances,” he said. “They want the best advice they can pay for.”

A spokesman for the UAW declined to comment. The union also declined to detail how much it spent to organize the Fuyao plant.

‘Anti-union machine’

Most labor-relations consultants will fight unions “within the law,” said Arthur Schwartz, a former GM labor relations director for General Motors and now a consultant. Scrupulous consultants stay on the right side of the law and will work to keep their clients on that side as well, he said.

Unions, however, contend that these companies further tilt an already uneven playing field.

“When you have that kind of opposition, organized opposition, it raises the question of how much of free choice do workers really have,” Masters said.

Employers have direct access to workers, with the ability to communicate with them at almost any time, while unions struggle to reach workers one at a time, Schwartz said.

“There’s a lot they can do,” he said. “They (employers) can stop production, get everyone together and give an anti-union diatribe. That’s perfectly legal to do. Whereas the union can’t do anything like that.”

Fuyao is a Chinese-owned company whose leaders may have been at least somewhat unfamiliar with American labor laws, Schwartz said. For that reason, he said, it’s not surprising the company would seek guidance.

Wayne State’s Masters said the hiring of such consultants is part of today’s business landscape.

Unions are nowhere as capable of retaining this kind of legal and consulting expertise, he said. Instead, unions tend to rely on supportive area residents and their own staffs, rather than outside “hired guns.”

Said Masters: “I would say they (these kinds of consultants) have become part and parcel of a very powerful anti-union machine that makes it very difficult to organize.”

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