Tensions are arising between labor and management at the Kumho Tire plant in Macon, Georgia in the United States ahead of an election by the workers to show their support to the trade union as the bargaining unit. What the law in the United States regulates that 50% majority sign-up by the workers for a trade union to be recognized as the bargaining unit shall be conducted in an election by secret ballot and verified by the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) becomes a big hurdle for trade unions to bypass. Employers are also permitted to carry out anti-union recognition campaigns which are tantamount to unfair labor practices in Korea. As the union had already filed a petition for an election at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia and a secret ballot election at the plant is scheduled to be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) on October 12 and 13, the company also moves aggressively to deter the attempts of the workers to form a trade union representing them as the bargaining unit.
Yoon Hyo-won, a consultant to the IndusriAll Global Union which represents the workers in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors across the globe, contributed to the Korea Daily Labor News(www.labortoday.co.kr) on September 27 the excerpts of interviews with Kemal Ozkan, Assistant General Secretary of the IndustriAll Global Union who is deeply involved in the union organizing campaigns in the United States as follows:
(Kemal Ozkan, Assistant General Secretary to IndustriAll, photo by Jeong Ki-hoon/The Korea Daily Labor News)
Q. Please explain about the situation of workers' struggle for union organizing at Kumho Tire, Georgia in the United States?
A: The United Steelworkers(USW) filed a petition supported by a majority of workers for an election at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia on September 19. The National Labor Relations Board(NLRB) will conduct the election by secret ballot at the factory on October 12 and 13.
Q: Can you elaborate more about the election system for the recognition of a union as the bargaining unit in the United States as Korea does not have the corresponding system?
A: Under U.S. law, in order to represent the workers in a workplace the union must demonstrate that it has the support of the majority of the workers. This is usually done by an election, conducted by the National Labor Relations Board(NLRB), a government agency.
In order to file a petition to show the majority support, the union must submit a petition or cards signed by at least 30 percent of the workers. At Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia, the USW submitted cards signed by more than 75 percent of the workers.
In the United States, most employers vigorously resist attempts by their workers to form unions, often hiring outside "union buster" consultants to threaten and intimidate the workers. In Macon, the Korean management has already held meetings with the workers to attempt to dissuade them from voting for the union.
Q: Do you mean that anti-union campaigns are also conducted by the management at Kumho Tire in Georgia?
A: In case of the Georgia plant, Korean managers organized several anti-union meetings to pressurize the workers not to vote for the union. When workers asked the managers if Kumho Tire in Korea has unions, Korean managers even declined to answer the question. The company has already begun anti-union campaigns. It is quite possible, as in other cases, Kumho Tire may intensify anti-union actions such as threats of company closure and intimidation upon elected union officers when a trade union is recognized as the bargaining unit.
Q: Tell us about Kumho Tire Georgia.
A: There are over 300 workers and 80 percent of them are African-Americans. The Georgia plant produces 4 million tires a year. The construction began in May 2008 but it was put on hold due to the financial crisis until in late 2014. It began the production of tires from early 2016 and plans to expand its production to 10 million tires a year. The Kumho Tire Georgia is a strategic plant targeting the North American market which consumes 22 percent of the global tire production volume. Wages are $14.70 - $18.00 per hour for production line workers at Kumho Tire Georgia which are lower than the wages of workers in other companies unionized by the USW. The USW standard wages are set for $16.00 - $28.00 for production line workers and $26.00 - $30.00 per hour for maintenance and repair workers.
Q: What are key demands of workers at Kumho Tire Georgia who support to join the USW?
A: Firstly, Kumho Tire workers in Georgia believe they have the right to fair and equal treatment, including no discrimination, no retaliation, no favoritism and no harassment. Secondly, the seniority should be respected and taken into account for the decision of overtime work and leave scheduling. Thirdly, the company should respect the worker's safety as the most proactive value in the workplace by taking appropriate measures for a safe work environment such as adequate training, provision of personal protective gears, written safety standards and procedures, and effective ways and procedures to respond to the safety standards violations.
Q: Do you have anything to ask Korean trade unions after all?
A: Solidarity fromKumho Tire workers in Korea to the workers in Georgia is keenly required, as their support and assistance will have a very positive impact on their morale and encourage them to defend their rights. I also want to appeal to the Korean affiliates to the IndustriAll Global Union such as the Korean Metal Workers' Union(KMWU), Federation of Korean Metalworkers' Trade Unions(FKMTU), Federation of Korean Chemical Workers' Unions(FKCWU), Korean Chemical and Textile Workers' Union(KCTWU) for their solidarity action. Statements, photos and videos in support of the workers in Georgia will be critical to their struggle. I am looking forward to the action-oriented solidarity from the Korean trade union movement.
interviewed by Yoon Hyo-won, consultant to the IndustriAll Global Union
translated by Kim Sung-jin
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