Arguing that a collective bargaining agreement can make valued jobs even better, United Auto Workers organizers made their case Sunday for representing 1,500 Fuyao Glass America workers.
With union organizers attending from across Ohio and out of state, about 200 people attended a rally Sunday afternoon at UAW Local 696’s Alwildy Avenue union hall in Dayton. Organizers said about “75 to 100” people who identified themselves as Fuyao workers signed meeting attendance sheets.
About 1,500 hourly production workers are at the plant.
The UAW has eyed the plant for some three years, since a Chinese industrialist bought the former General Motors assembly site in Moraine to create what is today said to be the world’s largest single-site automobile glass production plant.
To force a National Labor Relations Board-0verseen representation election, the union needs authorization signatures from 30 percent of Fuyao’s production workers. UAW leaders have not said how many of the workers have signed such cards in months of local organizing work.
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Asked how many workers signed authorization cards at Sunday’s meeting, a UAW spokesman said he didn’t know.
But union leaders say they are getting closer.
“We want this plant to succeed,” said Ken Lortz, director of the UAW region that includes Moraine. “Success happens when we have a safe working environment.”
Safety and working conditions were easily the top issues scheduled speakers addressed at Sunday’s meeting. Those approached for comment expressed similar sentiments.
“It’s going to take someone dying in that place for them to open their eyes,” said Larry Yates, a Fuyao worker, speaking with Tony Totti, a UAW Local 14 member from Toledo.
The UAW can give Fuyao workers the clout they need to ensure a safer working environment, Totti told Yates.
“Once you know your rights, you need to stand up and demand them,” Totti said.
Some Fuyao workers say they are asked to perform unsafe tasks or jobs for which they have had no training. They say chemical container warning labels are written in Chinese, and communication with Chinese supervisors can be difficult, forcing the use of translation apps on mobile phones.
Speaker James Martin said he left Fuyao on medical disability in 2015, suffering impaired lung function after exposure to chemicals at Fuyao’s West Stroop Road plant. Several times workers there asked for respirators and were denied, Martin charged.
“I’m not trying to run Fuyao out of town,” said another worker, Curt Stewart. “All I want is a safe place to work and to be respected when I get there.”
Outside the meeting, Fuyao worker Rafael Echols, 54, said he would “probably” vote for union representation.
“It’s a decent job, but they kind of change things mid-stream a lot,” said Echols, who identified himself as a “Montgomery County resident.”
“Some of the things they do don’t make sense.” he added. “When you come in in the morning, you don’t know what they are going to do.”
Fuyao employee Katie Warne, 44, of Enon, is a veteran of the plant in its previous incarnation as a GM plant. There, she was represented by another union, the IUE-CWA.
On Sunday, Warne said she wanted to hear what the UAW had to say. She said she has good supervisors at Fuyao, and she appreciates the job, although she said it was: “hard work. It’s dangerous work. You’re working with glass.”
“It has its ups and downs,” she said. “It’s going to take time for everything to get to where it needs to be.”
“It will never be a General Motors,” said Yates, also a former GM employee. “It will never be a Truck & Bus. But it can be the next best thing.”
Fuyao worker Lisa Connolly touched on another concern shared by some of her fellow workers. That paid-time-off and other employee policies can be unpredictably implemented.
But she also said: “Let me be clear. I’m pro-Fuyao. That’s why I’m pro-union.”
Eric Vanetti, vice president, human resources at Fuyao, said the company takes seriously concerns about safety. But he believes some concerns expressed Sunday are outdated.
“We’re extremely focused on safety,” Vanetti said. “In the time I’ve been here … we have made great strides in terms of our process and our focus, our dedication and our diligence.”
“You are always going to have concerns like that in a plant like ours and a workforce this size,” he said. “That doesn’t minimize workers’ concerns.”
Fuyao has organized an employee safety committee which met for the first time last week, and the company has invested at least $7 million in safety-related measures at the plant, he also said.
“All in all, I’d have to say our safety record is pretty good,” Vanetti said.
The company has settled safety citations raised by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association. The business said last year it has resolved the issues after being fined $227,000 in penalties.
“Both a government agency and our employees are involved in this, and that’s the way to do this,” Vanetti said.
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