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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nearly 80 workers at Flex-N-Gate LLC in Arlington, Texas have voted to join the UAW in an election conducted Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board.
The workers, who voted Wednesday evening at the plant, sequence products for the nearby General Motors Co. Arlington Assembly Plant.
"We are very happy to represent our newest UAW members," said UAW Region 5 Director Gary Jones. "We welcome them to the region and look forward to a fair and equitable agreement for them."
"We hope that through this election we can establish a relationship with Flex-N-Gate that best benefits the workers," said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who represents the union's Competitive Shop/Independents, Parts and Suppliers Department. "We look forward to this paving the way to show Flex-N-Gate that there is indeed added value for everyone when workers join the UAW," Estrada said.
"This is a good day for the workers at this plant," said UAW President Bob King. "This strong vote clearly shows that workers at this facility believe joining the UAW is the right choice."
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.
UAW members and nonunion workers will rally at seven plants operated by auto parts maker Flex-N-Gate Corp. on Feb. 13. The demonstrations, to be held simultaneously in five states, were organized to shine a light on the company's treatment of workers at its nonunion facilities and in support of workers bargaining for new contracts.
The UAW represents workers at six facilities owned by Flex-N-Gate - a $3 billion global parts supplier to the automakers, including Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. But workers at several other plants, in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, have been illegally fired or disciplined for attempting to form a union, according the National Labor Relations Board. The nonunion workers are also exposed to life-threatening hazards on the job. In the past eight months, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited and fined the company for dozens of serious safety violations at Flex-N-Gate nonunion operations.
Workers want to organize to gain a voice at the table and help make the company more successful.
In addition, UAW members at Flex-N-Gate union plants in Warren, Mich., and Belvidere, Ill., are currently trying to bargain new contracts. At both facilities, workers voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary to achieve a fair contract.
What: Unite for Justice at Flex-N-Gate Rally .
Who: UAW members from Flex-N-Gate's customer plants, Flex-N-Gate workers and community members.
When: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Flex-N-Gate Stamping, 5663 E. 9 Mile Road, Warren, Mich.
On Wed., Feb. 13, UAW members will be out in force to show their solidarity with workers at Flex-N-Gate plants around the country.
Every day, non-union workers at Flex-N-Gate Corp. – a major supplier of parts to the automakers – suffer humiliation and bad treatment from their bosses. They’re exposed to life-threatening hazards. Their pay is low and their benefits are lousy. Flex-N-Gate has been firing and disciplining workers trying to join the UAW. Our non-union brothers and sisters need our support. We need to let Flex-N-Gate and its customer companies know we stand with these workers in their fight to form a union and bargain for better pay and working conditions.
Flex-N-Gate is a privately owned, $3 billion global auto parts manufacturer. The company reaps billions for its owner – one of the 500 wealthiest men in America who owns an NFL team, a massive yacht, a ski chalet in Colorado, a $7 million condo in Chicago and his own personal country club.
Meanwhile, Flex-N-Gate’s non-union employees earn poverty-level wages that qualify many workers’ families for food stamps. They often live with other families in a single house, apartment or trailer in order to make ends meet. Some can’t even afford to pay for gas to get to and from work.
In addition, UAW members at two Flex-N-Gate union plants – in Warren, Mich., and Belvidere, Ill., -- are currently trying to negotiate a good contract, but the company is refusing to bargain in good faith.
We need you there!
Join us at one of these locations on Wednesday to send Flex-N-Gate a loud message that all workers deserve respect, safe working conditions and a living wage!
Ventra Belvidere, LLC
1805 Industrial Court
Meet at the local hall starting at 3:30 for rides to the rally.
601 Guardian Dr.
Parking available at AMBUCS Park, next to the plant
1200 East Eighth St.
5663 East 9 Mile Road (Northwest corner of 9 Mile & Mound)
Ventra Grand Rapids, LLC
3075 Breton St.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ventra Salem SPD
800 Pennsylvania Ave.
Flex-N-Gate Texas, LLC
WASHINGTON – UAW President Bob King summed up the union’s three days in D.C. in five words: “We’ve had an amazing week.”
The final session of the union’s 2013 UAW CAP Conference began at dawn and gradually built to a familiar and heartfelt adjournment with 1,500 energized delegates standing arm in arm singing “Solidarity Forever.”
From its annual Women’s Breakfast to V-CAP and GimmeFIVE awards, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and a touching memorial video tribute to Region 5 Director Jim Wells, the morning program was jam-packed. It also included an organizing report and a compelling video featuring Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., trying to organize.
Here’s a recap of the day’s program:
IEB attends annual Women’s Breakfast
|UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada enthusiastically encouraged delegates to keep working to increase the political power of women. Photos by Don Lehman/UAW
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada and the union’s entire International Executive Board gathered early Wednesday morning before a packed room of women and men for the annual Women’s Breakfast.
Once again, the purpose was to honor the achievements of women in the UAW and urge delegates to keep fighting to bring women into greater positions of influence and power in the public arena.
UAW President Bob King congratulated all women who have helped make the UAW a success for workers.
“It’s great that women are such a huge influence on, and part of, the UAW. We appreciate the women in our union,” said King.
UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams agreed.
“For the first time in UAW history, the president’s top administrative assistant is a woman, and the secretary-treasurer’s top administrative assistant is a woman. But we don’t mentor women as much as we should. We have to recognize people’s skills because we can’t afford to leave anyone behind,” said Williams.
Estrada, who directs the union’s Women’s Department, enthusiastically encouraged the audience to keep working to create an equal balance of power.
“Women are over 50 percent of the population, and yet we don’t have that much political power,” said Estrada. “We have to build coalitions by getting strategic about reaching out to all groups in society where there is injustice.”
Wasserman-Schultz: Owes her political start to support from labor.
Keynote speaker Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., thanked delegates for their support of Democratic candidates and issues, particularly because of President Barack Obama and the party’s consistent support of women’s issues.
Wasserman-Schultz said she owes her political start to support of the women of the local AFL-CIO in her Florida county where she started her career, and that type of networking and support of other women has to continue.
“I am one of only 276 women who have served in Congress,” she said. “We have to change that,” she said.
CAP delegate Marcie Walker, 59, is a Chrysler benefits representative in Kokomo, Ind. The UAW Local 685 member said she was inspired by what she heard.
“Women have historically taken a back seat to men. But that’s changing. Women are coming into their own now,” said Walker.
Valve assembler Melissa Anderson, 45, agreed. The mother of three and member of UAW Local 2069 at Volvo Heavy Duty in Dublin, Va., said women have power when they band together.
“We have a lot to say in this country. Our society has been taught to think it’s a man’s world. But we are breaking out of that shell and are no longer going to let men tell us what we can and can’t do,” said Anderson.
Panel tackles economics of poverty
What America needs now is an electric protest movement that will pull families out of poverty and turn back the clock on regressive politics that are desecrating the middle class, a distinguished panel told delegates Wednesday.
If things don’t change, the policy and political implications are grim, panelist Frances Fox Piven said.
“The United States now has the dubious honor of being the most unequal country in the world,” Piven said. “It’s bad not only for poor people, but for all of us.”
Marian Wright Edelman: We're in the
The panel, moderated by Sylvia Johnson of the UAW Legislative Department, featured children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman and Frances Fox Piven, a distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Piven has written widely on social movements for economic justice, and has coupled her academic work with political activism.
In decades past, the union stood as a bulwark to protect people, Pivens said. That changed in the 1970s when businesses fought back about worker protections and collective bargaining rights. Unions lost money and members, she said.
“But I think we are in the beginning of another era of mobilization. We’ve got to have a new movement or this country is going to hell,” said Edelman.
Forty years ago, Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund, whose mission is to ensure that every child has “a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and a moral start in life.”
“I thought I would be out of business right now,” she said. Instead, “we have failed to invest in our children, our families and our future workforce. If the foundation of your house is crumbling, you don’t say that you can’t afford to fix it.”
CAP report: V-CAP efforts are key
UAW National CAP Director Mary Beth Cahill (Video) congratulated members on doing a remarkable job during the nation’s last campaign season.
Cahill reported that UAW members overwhelmingly supported Obama. She attributed Obama’s re-election and the Democrats maintaining control in the Senate to the boots on the ground work of tens of thousands of UAW households.
Currently, 71.6 percent of the UAW’s active membership is registered to vote. Cahill urged every registered member to contribute to V-CAP. If even half that number would also contribute time, effort and just $10 per month to V-CAP, the UAW would be well on its way to being a mega-force in the campaign contribution game.
“Money alone will not determine the outcome of an election,” said Cahill. “But still we have to make sure that we have enough money to stay in the game and continue our grassroots efforts.”
UAW Local 3520 member and Freightliner worker Jerry Hodges saw President Obama speak during his national tour – not once, but twice. Hodges feels that the country is primed for the perfect storm. This also makes it the perfect climate to rebuild the infrastructure and combat unemployment.
“People are already starting to see in GOP-controlled states, that their agenda is targeted at labor. People are going to start to see that they have to stand up. They have to fight back. They are finally seeing the value of V-CAP contributions,” said Hodges.
“I’ve seen people who wouldn’t take my literature during the election season, and now they see that the decisions are going to start winding up on their coffee tables. They can’t deny the position we are in and how all working people are being attacked,” he added.
Joe Losier, a UAW Local 869 member and Chrysler worker, is a solid V-CAP contributor and supporter. He believes in being his brother’s keeper and that the UAW community extends to and from the workplace into the city blocks and surrounding neighborhoods. Losier said the union’s V-CAP efforts are key to that.
“Earlier in the conference someone referenced the [Bruce] Springsteen line, ‘Wherever this flag's flown we take care of our own.’ That hits home for me because that is how I’ve been raised. So when politicians or corporate managers try to separate and differentiate and choose who should have and who should not, I take it as a personal offense. My instinct is to fight for the disenfranchised. V-CAP gives us that fighting power,” said Losier.
UAW Local 1799 President Nancy Betz works at the last place any GOP member would ever want a union – a bank, specifically Commercial Bank and Trust of Pennsylvania.
For 37 years, workers have been proud to call themselves UAW members, and Betz has been a member for 28 years.
“The social issues alone are enough to make us pay attention to the political landscape, not just our membership but for all workers. In order to make a difference in the lives of all workers, we all have to be totally involved,” said Betz. “All workers need to be represented to get equality for all people. We don’t need to go back in time, and I’m afraid that’s what would happen if we didn’t stand up and fight back.”
Region 5 wins V-CAP award honors
It’s no surprise that UAW Region 5 was the shining star for the past year’s V-CAP contribution drive with a total of $914,000. But it was a bittersweet victory for the region after the recent passing of the region’s longtime director, Jim Wells, in September.
Region 5 Director Gary Jones accepts the V-CAP award on behalf of the region's active and retired members.
“I’m so honored to be up here accepting this reward on behalf of Region 5 members and retirees,” said Director Gary Jones. “I’m overwhelmed.”
The award is presented to the region that has raised the most V-CAP funds to support working family candidates. For the past 13 years, the region has been setting the standard with its members’ V-CAP participation.
“We talk about what V-CAP means and members begin to understand the importance when we connect the dots by saying supporting V-CAP is supporting your job. The federal auto loans are evidence in itself. I told them V-CAP made this happen because we supported the congressional leaders who supported working families,” said Michael Cartwright, UAW Local 276 president and member for 28 years.
At Cartwright’s local in Arlington, Texas, more than $12,000 was raised in 2012, and 25 percent of his membership contributes. And he hopes to keep improving on that number.
Region 1C Director
While all regions boosted V-CAP contribution totals, Region 1C Director Norwood Jewell took to the stage to grab the award for most improved. This is based on the number of members signed up and the level of giving.
“On behalf of the membership and backbone and heart of the region and the retirees, congratulations, Region 1C,” said Jewell.
And the GimmeFIVE awards go to …
Region 1 Director
Region 9A Director
Region 2B Director
The union’s GimmeFIVE Program celebrated its 2012 achievements with special awards presented Wednesday.
UAW Region 1 Director Charles Hall accepted the first-place award for outstanding overall recruitment of members. UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner accepted her region’s second-place award.
For the first time, an award was presented to the region with 25 percent of its membership active in the program.
UAW Region 2B Director Ken Lortz accepted that award on behalf of his region’s members.
The program has 65,326 members, including 8,388 added in 2012. Last year, GimmeFIVE members participated in more than 155 events.
UAW Local 455 member Lynette Royer said she was inspired.
“This conference has been so educational,” said Royer of Saginaw, Mich. “You learn why participating in GimmeFIVE is so important. It is one thing to show up to an event; it’s another when you know why it is so vitally important.”
The education and mobilization program was launched at the 35th UAW Constitutional Convention in June 2010 by President Bob King, the newly elected International Executive Board officers and regional directors, and local union delegates. GimmeFIVE recruits and engages members in a new and innovative mobilizing program to Organize, Build Power and Win Justice for our union and community.
Pelosi: Budget should reflect values
“Sequester is not a solution; it is out of the question. It gives a new meaning to March Madness,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., 12th District, told delegates. “We believe the budget should be a statement of our national values.”
The former Speaker of the House said that no matter what tricks Republicans are trying to play with the budget, trade or immigration, the voices of working families will be at the table.
“We can make a difference in the debate in the next couple of months, and we can make a difference in the election is 2014,” she said.
“I liked that Rep. Pelosi talked about how the Republicans had no problems with the budget when they were driving the deficit up with the wars, but now they complain about Medicare,” said Matt Beaver of UAW Local 699 in Saginaw, Mich. “They want to penalize those on Medicare but they don’t want to tax the wealthy.”
Jim Wells tribute: ‘A good friend and brother’
The family of the late Jim Wells with Region 5 Director Gary Jones.
When the house lights went down during today’s session, one of the videos being shown was a tribute to the memory and a life in pictures of Region 5 Director Jim Wells.
“We lost a good friend and brother. He was smart, tough, funny, and passionately committed to the workers,” said UAW President Bob King as he introduced the video shown during the conference. “His V-CAP awards are a tribute to his unchallenged and legendary leadership and recognition of the workers under Jim. Many others have tried to follow his example. Our union is a better one because of Jim’s lifetime of service. Jim and his family will always be a part of our family.”
“Jim was a very visible leader and very supportive, not just during negotiations, but when we had events, he was there to show us that we mattered,” said Michael Cartwright, Local 276 president in Arlington, Texas.
Gene Hurd, president of amalgamated UAW Local 509, has been a member since 1971. Hurd understood the strong support of V-CAP under Wells, a 13-year leader in contributions.
“When members don’t have VCAP checkoff, we sell tickets at their locations because that money supports the issues of unions and laborers. While we’re contemplating, our enemies are out here trying to undercut us with divisive and destructive legislation. Their mission is to break us and eliminate us,” said Hurd. “This is the lesson that Jim preached to us, no matter if we were at a quality meeting, a safety meeting or whatever else. For him, the workers came first. He left that legacy for us.”
Jeff Wright, a UAW Local 249 member from Ford’s Kansas City, Mo., plant, said Wells’ allegiance to workers was a value ingrained in the region’s members.
“Winning the V-CAP award this year again was an honor and a tribute to Jim. For most of the year, half of my plant was down, but we still managed to come out on top. It’s a testimony to what can be accomplished when we are all striving to achieve this goal,” said Wright.
Williams: The UAW is working hard with unions across the world on the transnational campaign.
Organizing: Comprehensive report
Delegates were updated on the UAW’s efforts to organize new workplaces and reinvigorate the labor movement.
UAW Vice President Joe Ashton (Video) directs the union’s Gaming sector, where organizing efforts are showing promise in the growing industry.
“We have an obligation to retirees to make this union strong in the future. A lot of casinos have organizing victories so far, but we need more. We have 12,000 new members in gaming, but the number of casinos continues to grow. We need more victories, because the worst day in a union shop is the best day in a nonunion shop,” said Ashton.
UAW Vice President Estrada, who is leading organizing efforts with parts suppliers, told delegates about the efforts to organize workers at parts supplier Flex-n-Gate.
“We have to stand up for all suppliers. Flex-n-Gate is very profitable and growing but won’t bargain in good faith. The workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals and harsh working conditions every day,” Estrada said.
The domestic automakers have to support this, said Estrada, because their parts are dependent on what happens at suppliers. Four workers described the horrific working conditions at Flex-n-Gate and reiterated that they love their jobs but want safe working conditions and enough money so they don’t have to be on welfare, which is the case for many workers there.
Secretary-Treasurer Williams heads up transnational efforts. He told delegates about a UAW organizing victory at Navistar in Tulsa, Okla., with 700 new members and another 500 workers expected to be hired by the end of 2013.
“One huge challenge is rebuilding the labor movement and eliminating the injustice of the two-tier system. The two-tier system will be in place until we can organize the transnationals,” said Williams.
Williams showed a moving video outlining the struggles of workers in Canton, Miss., to organize for a voice on the job at Nissan. The video showed the widespread community support for the organizing campaign and its connection with the history of Mississippi’s civil rights struggles. It ended with a moving rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” which prompted delegates to rise to their feet, hold hands and sing along.
“The community support for Nissan is a powerful statement. The community alliance has complete ownership of the campaign, with a committee comprised of religious, civic and other leaders,” said Williams.
Actor and activist Danny Glover is the campaign’s spokesman, he said, and another strength of this campaign.
Williams said the UAW is working hard with international unions, particularly the Japanese Auto Workers (JAW) union, and has received tremendous support for the Nissan and other transnational organizing campaigns in the United States.
“This Nissan campaign is a remarkable message to companies all over the world: You can’t come here and intimidate workers,” said Williams.
Holly Baumel is a member of UAW Local 95 in Janesville, Wis., who said she was inspired by the organizing presentations.
“People think unions aren’t needed anymore, that they’re just there to get all the cushy stuff for workers,” said the Blackhawk Area Credit Union worker. “Unions are so desperately needed now. I’ve been following the Nissan campaign on Facebook and social media, and I know that that’s not true. They’re needed now more than ever.”
CAP delegates sing 'We Shall Overcome' along with Nissan workers featured in the video.
UAW President Bob King says companies that prevent workers from having a voice in the United States should not be allowed to do this.
“I want Nissan management to know that just like our sisters and brothers at labor hunger strikes, just like the great foremothers and forefathers who said moral rights and human rights are most important, we are going to demand our justice,” King said.
Gwynne Cobb, Sandra Davis and Joan Silvi contributed to this story.
DETROIT -- Workers at a Flex-N-Gate auto parts plant in Puebla, Mexico owned by billionaire industrialist and NFL owner Shahid Kahn won the right to free association inside their workplace after a 12-hour job action on June 20.
UAW members at Flex-N-Gate plants in the U.S. took action to support the Mexican auto workers, hand-delivering a copy of worker demands, including the reinstatement of fired union activists, to their plant managers.
"Auto workers in Mexico have the same concerns we do, including safe working conditions, fair treatment, and a voice on the job" said Kathy Morgan, bargaining chair for UAW Local 2270 at Flex-N-Gate's Ventra Evart plant in Evart, Michigan. "If we don't speak up when Flex-N-Gate mistreats workers in Mexico, we're going to pay a price sooner or later. Because whatever they get away with there, they're going to try here."
"Right now I feel proud because we achieved something that we wanted, a victory for our rights and for justice," said Mario Lopez Espinoza, a member of the worker organizing committee at the Flex-N-Gate plant in Puebla. "We fought for something and we won -- and I believe if we stand together with workers in the U.S., we can improve conditions for everybody."
A Flex-N-Gate facility in Urbana, Ill., was fined $57,000 earlier this month by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The citation included nine serious violations, including failure to monitor workers' exposure to nickel, chromium, hydrochloric and sulfuric acid, and other hazardous substances.
A closed chrome bumper facility in Highland Park, Mich., also owned by Flex-N-Gate, is currently under investigation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for possible leaks and spills of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, into the soil and water surrounding the plant. The abandoned plant is located in one of the state's most economically challenged communities.
The company's health and safety issues were the focus of a community protest in New York City during the NFL draft in April.
NEW YORK -- Following a Draft Day protest about the business practices of Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner Shahid Khan, workers from his company and residents who live near one of his plants delivered a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the league’s Manhattan headquarters. The letter asks Goodell to investigate allegations related to Khan’s business practices and determine whether the billionaire’s conduct is detrimental to the welfare of the league or professional football.
Khan, the league’s newest owner, bought the Jaguars for $760 million in November, using a fortune he acquired as CEO of Flex-N-Gate. Khan’s firm has grown to become the 15th largest automotive supplier in North America, largely based on the production of chrome-plated truck bumpers. The chemical that gives bumpers their shine is hexavalent chromium, the same cancer-causing chemical made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich.
Responding to environmental, safety and labor concerns at Flex-N-Gate plants, workers and community residents held a press briefing outside the NFL’s Draft Day Pop-Up Store on 6th Avenue and 42nd Street today, then marched to NFL headquarters on Third Avenue to deliver a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We applaud you for making health and safety a priority for both current and former NFL players,” said the letter, signed by a delegation of workers and community residents from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. “Just as every NFL player deserves safe working conditions, so do the workers at Flex-N-Gate, the company at which Mr. Khan made the fortune that allowed him the privilege of owning an NFL team.”
The letter cites several concerns about Khan’s auto parts operations:
“If an NFL player was involved in an off-the-field incident which sent two people to the hospital, I’m sure the league would investigate,” said Pastor D. Alexander Bullock, senior pastor of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and the Michigan State Coordinator for Operation PUSH. Pastor Bullock’s church is blocks away from Khan’s closed Chrome Craft plant in Highland Park. “NFL owners, no less than players, should be held to the highest standards of ethical conduct.”
“The NFL says people look to it as a leader, and that’s correct,” said Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Independents, Parts and Suppliers Department. “We need to make sure that the league’s owners are role models, too, when it comes to how they treat workers, communities, and the environment.”
The full text of the letter to Roger Goodell is available at JusticeatFlexnGate.org or CleanUpChromeCraft.org. Participating labor and community organizations include: Green Door Initiative; Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church; NAACP- Highland Park Branch; NAACP – Detroit Branch; International Union, UAW; Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists – Detroit Chapter; Community Action and Response Against Toxics; Masjid Al-Nur Mosque; Sierra Club, Detroit Office.
Fifty-six-year old Highland Park, Mich., resident Saad Bolos thought he immigrated from Iraq to America to live in peace and safety. Instead, he says he’s been chemically poisoned on the job for years thanks to the negligence of a billionaire company owner.
“We are sure there are dangerous chemicals in the plant. We used to drink the water from the fountain every day and now we find out that’s probably contaminated, too. Even the water we drank,” Bolos told a capacity crowd at a state public hearing on chemical contamination at the idled Chrome Craft manufacturing facility in Highland Park, Mich. The audience jumped to its feet with thunderous applause as he shouted “Stand up everybody!”
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Paul Owens addresses the crowd
The hearing was held at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park and included Paul Owens of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) remediation division of southeast Michigan. Owens was there to hear testimony from former workers at the plant and nearby residents about why the state needs to immediately start testing the soil and water at and near the plant for toxic waste contamination.
Workers and neighborhood residents told numerous stories of serious health problems and even death they or loved ones have suffered, including countless cases of cancer and other diseases concentrated among former workers and those who live in proximity to the facility. They also described discolored runoff water in an alley near the plant and chemical odors wafting through the air. Most were afraid to grow vegetables nearby because of soil and water runoff contamination concerns.
Of particular concern is the chemical hexavalent chromium, which was used to coat vehicle bumpers at the plant. Some may be familiar with the chemical; it’s the same chemical that polluted a town in California that was later brought to national attention by Erin Brockovich. The substance is also a proven cause of cancer.
Chrome Craft’s parent company is Urbana, Ill., based Flex-N-Gate, which has $3 billion in annual revenues. Flex-N-Gate’s owner, Shahid Khan, has an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion, according to Forbes and recently purchased the Jacksonville Jaguars football team for $760 million.
“This is a fight workers have been fighting for a long time,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada at the hearing. “Employers who continue to pollute and not care if children are playing in these hazardous areas need to be held accountable. We will continue to stand with communities and not allow irresponsible employers to endanger our children.”
Workers and residents cheer remarks made by Highland Park, Mich., resident and Chrome Craft worker Saad Bolos, who says he and others are being poisoned by a billionaire owner.
After urging from residents and Pastor D. Alexander Bullock at the meeting, Owens promised the state will start contamination testing near the plant within two weeks, and will begin by gathering testimony from those sick or injured from working at or living near the plant.
It can’t start soon enough for former Chrome Craft worker Mike Miley, who told the audience about the lack of protective gear being worn at the plant and how he lost two teeth from chemical exposure at the facility. “The chemicals activated with the saliva in my mouth and caused those teeth to fall out,” he said. Two of Miley’s uncles who worked at the plant died from cancer, both after living otherwise healthy lives. “We told the company they need to handle these chemicals better, but they just ignored us. It was always about the dollar and nothing else to them,” he said.
Those made sick by Chrome Craft hope the state’s promise of testing to prove contamination may be the first turn of the wheel of justice for them and their loved ones.
The more than 900 UAW members at Flex-N-Gate know the difference being in a union has made in their lives and in the quality of the products they produce. These members want to make sure that all Flex-N-Gate workers have the same opportunities to have a say in their plant and a brighter future for their families.
That’s why more and more of them are getting involved in a national effort to unite all Flex-N-Gate workers in the UAW.
Being in a union gives workers respect at work, a voice on the job, and wages that “allow me to make a good life for my family,” says UAW Local 1268 member Rebecca Villarreal, who has worked at Flex-N-Gate’s Ventra plant in Belvidere, Ill., for the last five years.
And, as a UAW member, you are treated as a person and not a robot, says Kenny Moore, a shipping and receiving expeditor at the Belvidere plant and also a member of Local 1268.
About 40 percent of Flex-N-Gate workers in the United States – and an even higher percentage in Canada – are represented by unions. UAW–represented plants are in Evart, Royal Oak and Warren, Mich.; Belvidere, Ill., and Windsor, Ontario, Canada. At these sites, Flex-N-Gate and the UAW have successfully worked together to solve problems, increase productivity and improve working conditions.
UAW members such as Moore and Villarreal are reaching out to their brothers and sisters in 10 nonunion Flex-N-Gate shops in six states who want to form their own union. The organizing effort is also providing even more opportunities for unionized Flex-N-Gate workers to connect with one another, and make strategies to continue to make positive changes in their shops.
Flex-N-Gate has quickly grown to become the 15th largest automotive supplier in North America, with total global revenues estimated at more than $3 billion. Originally a small manufacturer of truck bumpers, Flex-N-Gate has grown into a diversified supplier of vehicle interiors, exterior plastic components and lighting. In bumpers, the company is the market leader, producing bumpers for the Ford F-150 and Super-Duty, the Chevy Silverado, the GMC Sierra, the Dodge Ram line and Toyota.
The nonunion plants actively involved in the campaign are in Illinois (Urbana and Danville), Indiana (Veedersburg and Covington), Michigan (two plants in Grand Rapids and one in Battle Creek), Ohio (Salem) and Kentucky (Russellville).
“There is a real sense of solidarity and a willingness to reach out among Flex-N-Gate workers who are already UAW members,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who directs the union’s Independents, Parts and Suppliers (IPS) Department. “They are working hard to let workers at the other shops know that forming your own union is the right choice for workers, families and communities.”
“Our message is that we are all sisters and brothers and support you, and we stand behind you 100 percent,” said Villarreal, who has worked at a nonunion plant and knows that being part of a union can mean some major differences, including respect and dignity at work and a voice on the job.
Before joining Flex-N-Gate, Villarreal worked at a nonunion company where she was told there were certain jobs that she couldn’t do because she’s a woman.
“I had to settle for whatever job they put me in, but with a union contract there are procedures that have to be followed. I can bid on a job, and if I have the ability and the seniority, I get the job,” she said. “Being in a union allows you to advance yourself, which I’ve been able to do at Ventra.”
Moore also worked in a nonunion shop before working at the Belvidere plant.
“Companies do whatever they want. They make all the decisions and the workers have no say-so. You can be terminated for any reason. You have no protection,” he said.
In contrast, Moore said, being a part of the UAW, “You have rights. We have input on decisions, and we are treated more fairly. Being a part of the union gives workers more of a voice in the workplace.”
UAW Local 2270 member Kathy McClure, an inspector at Flex-N-Gate’s plant in Evart, Mich., says she appreciates the benefit of strong lines of communication between union members and the company.
The good relationship, McClure said, means “that issues are usually worked out right away on the floor, and together everyone is able to quickly work through the common sense stuff.”
Before the Evart plant was sold to Flex-N-Gate, it was a UAW-represented plant owned by Collins and Aikman that was scheduled to close. The UAW intervened to save the plant and worked with Chrysler and Flex-N-Gate to keep the facility open.
Everyone made some sacrifices and created a flexible agreement and in the end, the Evart plant was saved.
Once workers cleared the initial hurdle of keeping their plant open, they focused on becoming the best supplier they could be, producing great quality products with outstanding just-in-time delivery. The UAW also advocated with Ford Motor Co. to put new work in the Evart plant and because of the UAW’s intervention and because of the plant’s reputation for being a great supplier, they were awarded Ford work as well.
The number of workers at the plant has grown from 50 to more than 500 in recent years. Over the past year, the plant won important new work, including the fascias for highly regarded vehicles such as the Ford Focus and Buick Verano. The new work has meant more hiring as recently as May and June. Ventra Evart supplies fascias to a variety of additional vehicles including the Dodge Grand Caravan, Lincoln MKS, and Jeep Patriot and Compass. The plant also manufactures other components for the Ford Mustang, GMC Acadia, Buick Enclave, and Dodge Ram pickup.
“Working at Flex-N-Gate without a union is hard to imagine,” said McClure, adding that she has attended UAW-sponsored classes on health and safety and other issues that provided priceless information and training.
For more information visit: flexngateworkersunite.org