Kumho Tire employees vote ‘no’ to union. United Steelworkers to file objection

Kumho Tire plant in Macon.
Kumho Tire plant in Macon.

Employees at the Kumho Tire plant in Macon voted 164 to 136 against representation by the United Steelworkers union.

But it’s not the final move by the union.

“We will file objections to the election because we believe the employer committed many unfair labor practices,” Maria Somma, director of organizing with the steelworkers union in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said in an email late Friday night. “We will file with the national labor relations board.”

The vote by secret ballot was held 8-9:30 a.m. and 8-9:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday in the cafeteria at the Kumho plant in the Sofkee Industrial Park. The U.S. National Labor Relations Board handled and oversaw the paper ballot voting process.

More than 80 percent of workers supported the union prior to the “employer’s anti-union campaign,” Somma said.

“They spent tens of thousands of dollars on union avoidance consultants rather than using that money to address the concerns the employees have,” she said. “The USW remains committed to these workers and their struggle for fairness at work.”

The Labor Relations Board requires the union to wait 12 months before it can conduct another election at the plant. But there is another way Kumho employees could vote again sooner than that.

“(If) either party was found to have broken the law then there could be a re-run election,” Somma said.

Kumho hired a Macon-based law firm, Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP, a day after the union petition was filed. The firm specializes in management-only labor and employment law.

Mel Haas told The Telegraph earlier this month that his firm tried “to get employees the truth” about collective bargaining and what it means legally to be represented by a union and what their rights are with and without a union.

There had been accusations by the Steelworkers union that Kumho Tire management had responded to the election petition “in a hostile manner” and that managers had tried to dissuade them from forming a union.

But Haas said his firm acted in accordance with the Labor Relations Act. Haas has handled more than 150 union elections and has won 98 percent of them.

This summer, some Kumho workers came to the United Steelworkers union saying they had concerns about wages and seniority, and safety and health, Somma told The Telegraph in early October. The workers had tried to resolve their issues with management but didn’t feel their concerns were being addressed, she said.

“When left with no other option, they came to the union,” Somma said earlier.

She said the most serious issues for workers revolved around health and safety. Workers said they were working without the proper equipment and proper protections from chemicals.

The Kumho facility in the Sofkee Industrial Park was first announced in January 2008, but it was delayed by the global financial crisis. Construction was first pushed back to late 2009 or early 2010, but it was delayed until the first quarter of 2013. Then in July 2014, Kumho announced construction would begin in August with production beginning in 2016.

A state grant helped prepare the site for development, and local property taxes would be phased in over 20 years for an estimated incentive of $17 million, according to previous reports.

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz