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Workers in five states are calling on Flex-N-Gate Corp. -- one of the nation's largest and fastest-growing automotive suppliers -- to invest in its U.S. workforce by improving safety, paying livable wages and putting an end to efforts by management to intimidate workers who wish to form a union.
Today's actions are unique because they bring together unionized Flex-N-Gate workers, the company's non-union workers and the UAW members who install Flex-N-Gate parts on vehicles made by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.
"We are American workers making quality, American parts for American-made vehicles," says Tina Hawk, who has worked at Flex-N-Gate's Salem, Ohio, plant for more than 12 years. "All we want is dignity, respect and the ability to earn a decent living." Some workers at Hawk's plant have been there 10 to 20 years and still make just around $10 an hour.
Workers participated in actions at seven Flex-N-Gate plants. At plants in Warren, Mich., and Belvidere, Ill., UAW members are in the final stages of negotiating a new contract with Flex-N-Gate. Over the weekend, workers there voted overwhelmingly to strike, if necessary, to achieve a fair contract.
"We have raised concerns about issues at both unionized and non-union plants during these negotiations," said Billy Williams, a member of UAW Local 155's bargaining committee in Warren. "Wages and working conditions at Flex-N-Gate's non-union plants directly affect our ability to bargain a fair contract. When the company is allowed to pay poverty wages and cut corners on important issues like safety at its non-union plants, it's that much harder for us to continue to move forward in our contract negotiations. Those plants undercut the standards we've worked so hard to establish. They don't compete based on quality or efficiency - just on how low they can drive standards."
At the five non-union plants, Flex-N-Gate workers have been trying for over a year to organize a union with the UAW. The National Labor Relations Board has issued complaints against the company alleging dozens of violations of federal law in response to claims by workers in Michigan, Texas and Indiana. Workers there say the company tried to illegally discourage workers' efforts by threatening, harassing and even firing workers simply because they supported forming a union.
In addition, workers at Flex-N-Gate plants in Urbana, Ill., and Veedersburg, Ind., have been fighting to improve safety conditions at their plants. At the Urbana plant, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited Flex-N-Gate with more than 20 serious violations related to the use of hexavalent chromium (the cancer-causing chemical made infamous by the movie Erin Brockovich), the presence of combustible metal dust, the mishandling of a July 2012 chemical accident and other dangers.
"We know from talking with workers at unionized Flex-N-Gate plants that it doesn't have to be like this. The company works with members of the UAW to fix safety problems. And those workers get better wages and treatment," said O'Neal Clemmons, who has worked at the company's Masterguard plant in Veedersburg for three years. "We're not asking for the world. We're asking for common decency and respect."
Manufacturing jobs helped form the backbone of America's middle class. In general, these jobs still pay more than most retail and service-sector jobs. But more and more, there are also manufacturing jobs like those at non-union Flex-N-Gate plants: low-wage jobs with working conditions that harkens to an era before the rise of unions and workplace protection laws.
"Enough is enough," said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who oversees the union's auto part supplier division. "Americans don't just need jobs-they need good jobs. Flex-N-Gate has grown from a small company with a single plant to an important global supplier. They can afford to do better. In fact, I believe when workers are treated fairly and have a voice in their company's future, Flex-N-Gate will do even better."
The actions were held at Flex-N-Gate facilities in:
Flex-N-Gate is a fast-growing $3 billion global auto parts supplier headquartered in Urbana, Ill. The company makes metal bumpers, interior and exterior plastic parts, lighting and stamped metal components primarily for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan.