An advocate for west Michigan working families through collective action, education and community partnerships.
DEARBORN March 3, 2016– Workers at Ground Effects in Dearborn began picketing the automotive supplier this week, as the company continues to interfere with their organizing campaign. Unsafe working conditions are common at the plant, according to workers, and a number of union activists have been targeted,
From the Detroit Free Press:
The UAW has been trying to organize the more than 100 workers at the plant since at least 2014 and lost an election in July by one vote, 24-23, against joining the union.
However, that election was set aside in a settlement agreement in December that was approved by the National Labor Relations Board after the UAW alleged the company unfairly interfered with the first election by threatening to move or close the plant.
An attorney for the company, Craig Schwartz, said in an email, “Because there are legal proceedings pending at the NLRB the company is declining comment, but obviously denies any unlawful conduct. Ground Effects has agreed to a second election, which is scheduled for March 17 and 18.”
But a union lawyer and some workers claim the company has violated the agreement, which helped spark the picket line.
“We believe the employer has violated that settlement agreement,” said Bruce Miller, a partner with Miller Cohen in Detroit, who added that the second election should not be held until any new violations are rectified.
Miller said among the new violations was the company’s order that some workers not associate with employees who have been involved in union organizing.
As part of the original settlement agreement with the NLRB, the company agreed to post information in its plant that outlined in detail 10 different types of organizing interference it promised to avoid, according to the agreement.
The agreement included a list of 16 employees the company sent home early on June 11, 2015, for engaging in union activity. The company agreed to provide back pay for time lost. But Ground Effects has since fired two of those employees, who were among about a dozen workers and UAW Local 600 officials who took part in a rally outside the plant in Dearborn on Wednesday.
Those two workers feel they were targeted because of their union organizing activities and cited for minor infractions in their firings.
Maria Sanchez, 37, of Allen Park said she was fired Feb. 10 for putting screws into a Ford F-150 bedliner in the wrong order. But she said the company had not told employees the order in which the screws should be installed.
“They said I had to start from the passenger side. But (until then) they never specified what side you were supposed to start on,” she said.
John Salazar, 56, said he was fired in December for falsifying documents. But Salazar said he and other employees had been signing documents the same way for years with the company’s knowledge.
“Basically, they just picked out a reason to fire me,” Salazar said.
Windsor, Ontario-based Ground Effects operates several companies in Windsor and also has locations in Flint, Warren, Belvidere, Ill., Bowling Green, Ky., Kansas City, Mo., and Toluca, Mexico.
In Dearborn, the company and its workers apply spray-on bedliners in the beds of Ford F-150 pickups.
The UAW also filed 10 complaints on Feb. 18 with the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration signed by employees. The complaints allege, among other things, that workers at the Dearborn plant are suffering from “adverse health effects, including burns, rashes, hair loss and asthma because of the chemicals they are working with and a lack of proper safety equipment.”
Salazar and Sanchez they’ve experienced those health issues and said they suspect they were fired because they took part in a protest in December and have been involved in union organizing activity. They were among about a dozen workers who began protesting at the plant at 3 a.m. Wednesday.
“Today, our goal is just to get the point across to management that we need a union in here,” Sanchez said.
During the first election, Salazar said the company sent people into the plant to talk to employees for long periods of time and warned employees that the plant would be closed and moved elsewhere if workers voted in favor of a union.
“They more or less threatened us with our jobs if we didn’t go along with their wishes,” Salazar said.