Steelworkers to challenge election results in Macon, Georgia.
Workers at the Macon, Georgia, USA plant narrowly voted against union representation after management intimidation. The company has fired one of the union leaders and threatened others. United Steelworkers (USW) has filed unfair labour practice charges.
The election, on 12 and 13 October, saw workers vote 164 to 136 against union representation. The vote was held after more than 80 per cent of workers signed cards saying they wanted a union. The main issues at the workplace are health and safety, and a lack of transparency about benefits, promotions and other issues.
The day after the union’s election petition was filed, the company hired a firm of union busters, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to attack the reputation of the Steelworkers. Seven full time union busters were employed.
Workers at the Macon plant were required to attend daily anti-union meetings that lasted for several hours, with managers telling them that the newly-opened factory would be forced to close if they voted for a union. The Korean multinational is currently under control of a committee of creditors headed by the state-run Korea Development Bank, and plant managers emphasized this to play on workers’ fears.
Workers were also required to attend many one on one anti-union meetings. The company created an anti-union website, which included a message from the mayor of Macon, urging them to vote against the union. Eventually, after this psychological pressure, the union lost by a 15 vote margin.
Kumho Tire’s intimidation continues. On 17 October, the company fired Mario Smith, one of the leaders of the organizing campaign. Other workers were threatened with dismissal.
The Steelworkers have filed unfair labour practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. If they are successful, the election could be re-run or the company could be ordered to bargain with the union.
Tyre workers from around the world have sent messages of solidarity to Kumho workers, urging them to join the union family so that they would have a voice at work. Messages came from Kumho’s home country of Korea, where the company is entirely unionized. Chair of the local union, Cho Sam-su, said:
“Workers all over the world are one, I believe this slogan. I am sending my solidarity and support to the Georgia plant workers of Kumho Tire who are struggling to democratically unionize your factory.
Workers need a union, wherever you are working.”
Messages of support also came from Japan, Thailand, India, Poland, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Liberia, UK, Turkey and Mexico.
The Steelworkers represent workers at a number of other tyre manufacturers, including Cooper, Goodyear, Yokohama, Michelin, and Bridgestone/Firestone. The union will continue to fight for the workers of Kumho Tire.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“Instead of addressing issues at the plant, Kumho spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring seven full time union busters to wage psychological warfare and intimidate workers.
“The union busters lied to workers, telling them they would lose their jobs if they voted for a union.
“Now the sacking of our brother Mario Smith is totally illegal, immoral and unacceptable.”
“Kumho Tire must end its campaign of intimidation and negotiate with the union.”