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USA: Kumho Tire workers face crucial union vote

4 October, 2017Workers at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia, USA, will vote next week on whether to join the United Steelworkers.

The South Korean multinational tyre manufacturer has hired a union-busting company, created an anti-union website, and forced workers to attend anti-union meetings. Seven “union busters” are now working in the factory, intimidating workers with statements that the plant will close if workers vote for the union.

To be certified as the legal representative of the workers   by the National Labor Relations Board, 50 per cent plus one must vote in favour of the United Steelworkers (USW). The vote, on 12 and 13 October, is seen as a crucial indicator of the labour movement’s ability to organize in the southern states of the US.

The Kumho factory in Georgia started production in 2016. The factory supplies auto manufacturers including Chrysler, Hyundai and Kia and employs 300 workers, 80 per cent of whom are African American. There has been a wave of investment in the southern states of the US by foreign companies taking advantage of the anti-union environment.

Kumho has production, research and sales facilities in the USA, Vietnam, China, the UK, Germany, Turkey, Australia and a number of other countries. The company makes tyres for cars, trucks and aircraft.

The workers’ key demands are:  

  • Fair and equal treatment, with no discrimination, retaliation, favouritism or harassment
  • Respect for seniority for job signing, overtime and vacation scheduling
  • Adequate safety measures, including training, protective equipment, written standard and accountability.

The USW organizes a number of other tyre manufacturers, including Goodyear, Cooper, Michelin and Bridgestone. Wages are significantly higher at organized sites.

At the IndustriALL Global Union world rubber conference held in Pittsburgh in September, representatives of unions in the sector made a collective statement of solidarity with the workers in Georgia. In South Korea, 3,700 Kumho workers are organized by IndustriALL affiliate the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), who sent a solidarity message to the workers in the US, urging them to vote for the union.

“The Kumho Tire workers of Korea are all organized in the Korean Metal Workers’ Union to fight to defend workers’ rights. We support your struggle to organize a union for the Kumho Tire workers at the US plant with the United Steelworkers’ Union.

“We strongly demand that the management of the Kumho Tire Georgia plant in the US respect workers’ just right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.“

Kumho is heavily indebted to financial institutions, who took control of the company seven years ago. Its main creditor is the state-owned Korea Development Bank, meaning the government has a huge influence in the future of the company.

The US and South Korean governments are currently in discussions about the future of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement.  Violations of worker rights by a state-owned company could raise public opposition to the FTA.

IndustriALL has written to the Korean government, insisting that it ensures that the company respect workers’ rights. IndustriALL has also written to the company, and sent a solidarity statement to the workers.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“Workers at the Macon plant should ignore the propaganda from the company and vote for union representation. This is the only way you will be able to achieve and sustain decent working conditions.

“The global trade union movement supports your demands for dignity and respect in the workplace, and we demand that the Korean government act immediately to halt the union-busting campaign.”

Take action

Click the button at the top of the page to send a solidarity message. You can also print a copy of the poster, take a picture of your union holding it, and send it to Kevin Johnsen at the Steelworkers to show your support.