PITTSBURGH, July 20, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Workers at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., today alerted health officials to rampant COVID-19 safety failures in their workplace.
The workers, who voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW) despite Kumho's repeated efforts to thwart the election, expressed both their fear that they are unprotected from contracting the coronavirus at the tire plant and their concern that the lack of precautions could put the wider community at risk.
They addressed the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health during a public meeting conducted by telephone because of the pandemic.
The workers said Kumho failed to adequately distribute face masks, supply sanitizer or take other common-sense steps to prevent an outbreak of the virus. Now, as COVID-19 sweeps through the plant, company officials refuse to implement consistent social distancing or provide sufficient paid sick leave for workers forced into quarantine.
"The only thing important to them is the tires," said one worker, who brings his own mask and sanitizer to the plant yet still fears catching the virus because he has close contact with colleagues on every shift.
While expecting workers to risk COVID-19 without proper safeguards, he said, managers "won't come out on the floor anymore because they don't want to get it and take it home to their families."
Other workers reported that Kumho still refuses to regularly and thoroughly disinfect the factory, consistently limit the use of common areas or give details about the rash of COVID-19 cases, such as the number of colleagues infected.
"Kumho's disregard for its workers' welfare during this deadly pandemic is disappointing but not surprising," said USW District 9 Director Daniel Flippo, who leads thousands of Steelworkers in Georgia, six other southern states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. "This company amassed a huge list of health and safety violations long before COVID-19 hit. Sadly, Kumho cares more about undermining workers' labor rights than keeping them, their families and the community safe."
In 2017, workers narrowly lost a unionization vote after Kumho waged an illegal campaign of harassment and intimidation. An administrative law judge found the company's misconduct so egregious that he not only ordered a new election but directed the company to read a list of its violations.
During the second election, held last fall, workers voted 141 to 137 for USW representation, with 13 additional challenged ballots. Kumho dragged out the appeals process, but the National Labor Relations Board last week ordered the remaining ballots counted. No date has been set for the count.
"Workers voted to unionize because Kumho refused to treat them fairly," District 9 Staff Representative Alex Perkins said. "The company's callous failure to protect them from COVID-19 shows just how urgently they need union protections."
More information about the workers' concerns may be found here.
The USW represents 850,000 men and women employed in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries, along with a growing number of workers in public sector and service occupations.
Contact: Joe Smydo, [email protected], 412-562-2281
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SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)