Temp workers at vehicle parts factory win union recognition

Bold action by temporary workers at a vehicle parts plant near Cleveland paid off when management agreed to recognize their union.

After presenting a letter to management explaining their desire to join a union and become permanent employees, temporary production workers at Detroit Chassis in Avon, Ohio unanimously voted to go on strike unless the company agreed to recognize their union.

The strike vote was taken on Sunday, April 17. On Monday the workers rallied outside the plant and prepared to go on strike on Tuesday.

Before they could so, Detroit Chassis management made a commitment to recognize the workers’ union.

The workers are now in the process of forming a negotiating committee that will meet and bargain with the company on the issues that the workers raised in their letter to management.

“Winning this union is a huge relief for us, and will help bring good jobs that are sorely needed in our community,” said David Perrier, a production worker active in the union drive. “I’ve worked at the plant since Day 1, and I could see the only way we were going to get a decent paycheck and fair treatment on the job is by coming together in a union and demanding it. This victory proves that by speaking out, we can win real change.”

Low pay, the lack of regular shifts, and no benefits such as paid sick or vacation leave led some Detroit Chassis workers like Perrier to start talking about forming a union.

With the help of organizers from the United Autoworkers (UAW), their talk led to plans for the action that resulted in their victory.

Detroit Chassis opened its Avon factory in 2015. When the plant opened, all of production workers were hired as temporary workers. Their pay ranged from $9.50 an hour to $11.50 an hour.

Some had the impression that they might become permanent employees, but more than a year after the plant became operational, all 58 production workers were still classified as temporary with no possibility of change in sight.

The workers formed their union in order to change their temporary status. They wanted management to make them permanent workers with all of the wages and benefits that go along with permanent work.

“Many companies use long-term temporary workers, employed through a staffing agency like they were at Detroit Chassis, as yet another tool to discourage workers from organizing for better jobs,” said Ken Lortz, director of UAW Region 2B. “What happened here in Avon is the first time I remember seeing temporary workers stand up and say enough is enough. Their actions are proof that when workers stick together, they can win, regardless of the obstacles that employers put in their way.”

According to the UAW, about 14 percent of the workers in the auto parts sector are temporary workers employed through staffing agencies.

Pay for these temporary workers is on average 29 percent less than permanent employees. They also do not receive benefits.

At one time, going to work at an auto parts plant was a gateway to middle-class life, but that is no longer the case.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) reports that “real wages for auto parts workers, who account for nearly three of every four autoworker jobs, fell by nearly 14 percent from 2003 to 2013, three times faster than for manufacturing as a whole.”

The Detroit Chassis Avon workers were in a better position to improve their lot than most temporary workers.

Their plant provides just-in-time axles and wheel assemblies used in the production of Ford’s F-650 and F-750 trucks.

Had they shut down production with a strike, truck assembly at the Ford Lake Avon plant would have come to a halt in a day or less, reports the UAW.

With their union victory, Detroit Chassis workers are anticipating significant changes to their lives.

“This union contract for our workforce could change the lives of many people, just with the bump up in wages and benefits,” said Gabe Luchkowsky, a Detroit Chassis worker to the Morning Journal, a regional news organization. “Some of the guys were saying, ‘I can finally go to the doctor now.’”

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CA bill would hold companies accountable for abuse of temp workers

California lawmakers may soon be voting on a bill that would hold companies accountable for worker abuses committed by their labor contractors.

AB 1897 authored by Roger Hernandez has been amended and re-sent to the California General Assembly’s Labor and Employment Committee that is chaired by Hernandez.

California like most other states has seen a resurgence in the use of temporary workers hired through labor contractors, a common practice during the late 19th Century.

A report from the University of California Berkeley Labor Center entitled “Problems with Temporary and Subcontracted Work in California” finds that nearly 300,000 Californians work for labor contractors that provide and supervise workers for other companies.

This precarious workforce provides essential labor in manufacturing, landscaping, agriculture, housekeeping, material handling, and other industries.

These so-called temporary workers lack the stability of a full-time job even though they may work full time for long stretches at a particular job.

These jobs are generally low-wage jobs that lack benefits as well as job security.

Temporary workers also can be the victim of employer abuses such as wage theft.

According to “Problems,” the US Labor Department recovered nearly $2 million in wages owed to temporary workers in 2008, the latest year for which data is available. The report goes on to say that the recovered amount understates the problem because of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hours Division’s poor track record during this time and the fact that wage theft often goes unreported.

In addition to these abuses, temp workers are more likely to be working in unsafe working conditions.

A report by Pro Publica finds that temporary workers in California are 50 percent more likely to be injured on the job than permanent workers.

When temp workers are cheated out of their pay or suffer injuries on the job, the company that hires them through a labor contractor may shirk their responsibility by claiming that the injured or abused worker doesn’t work directly for the company,

That’s what Soex West Textile Recycling claimed in 2009 when two of its temporary workers lost fingers in two separate machine accidents.

Had AB 1897 been effective at that time Soex would have been held responsible, and the workers would have been able to collect workers compensation through Soex.

The use of temp workers also makes it harder for workers to organize and take collective action to address grievances, which is why the California Labor Federation and other labor organizations such as the UFCW, SEIU, the Teamsters, and California Rural Legal Assistance, which helps farmworkers, are supporting AB 1897.

“Contract laborers work for the labor contractor, so at one site, there can be multiple employers. That results in split bargaining units, multiple elections, and a constantly divided workforce,” writes Caitlin Vega explaining why the California Labor Federation is supporting AB 1897.

Another reason that labor is supporting AB 1897 is that current law inadequately protects an ever-increasing and substantial community of workers.

“Current law is simply insufficient to protect workers’ rights in the shadows of the subcontracted economy,” writes Vega.  “Under existing law, a company can only be held responsible if a worker can prove joint employer status. This process is costly, slow, and difficult to navigate for most workers. It requires litigation, rather than providing a simple and straightforward rule. It is also easily manipulated by companies that have the labor contractor provide supervision on site to shield them from liability.”