Macon tire plant workers threatened with job loss if they voted yes to union, judge says

Kumho Tire employees in Macon will get a second opportunity to vote on joining a union pending an appeal by the company.

An administrative law judge ruled last week that there is evidence that Kumho violated federal laws leading up to the 2017 vote on being represented by the United Steelworkers union.

The ruling found that some plant supervisors and company officials threatened employees with the loss of jobs or the closure of the Macon plant, and that some employees were improperly questioned about their views on unionization, Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan wrote on the May 14 ruling.

The United Steelworkers union filed an objection after union representation failed to pass in October 2017 with 164 votes against and 136 votes in favor of joining USW.

“(Kumho’s) statements, some of which were made by high-ranking company officials in captive audience meetings had more than a minimal impact on employees,” Amchan wrote. “The violative statements were numerous, severe (i.e., threats of plant closure) disseminated widely and were made up to the evening prior to balloting.”

Kumho disputes the judge’s findings and will likely appeal the decision, said Mel Haas, a partner with Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP.

The $450 million Kumho plant opened in 2016.

“The company supports its employees legal right to decide whether or not they have a Union,” Haas wrote in an email. “The Company continues to focus on its employees and its customers and being an employer of choice in the Macon-Bibb County area.”

Among some of the USW allegations against Kumho were:

Senior Kumho official Hyun-Ho Kim told some employees that jobs could be in jeopardy if they joined the union;

Kumho’s list of eligible voters sent to the USW in September 2017 included incorrect addresses and phone numbers;

The human resource director was recorded telling a group of employees to vote no the day before the election;

Some employees were told that contracts with Kia and Hyundai could end because of unionization.

Prior to the 2017 vote, USW said there were concerns about the pay, health and safety of the plant’s employees. The judge’s decision to have another vote was applauded by the union that represents 850,000 workers.

“This ruling is a major victory, not just for the brave Kumho Tire workers and not just for union members, but for all workers who want to improve their lives through organizing,” Daniel Flippo, director of the USW’s District 9, said in a news release.

A company’s statements about unionization should not include threats or the force or promise of benefit, Amchan wrote.

“A supervisor and/or agent has a right to campaign against unionization,” he wrote. “However, when he asks or makes a statement seeking a response from a unit employee as to that employee’s attitude towards unionization, that is an interrogation.”

Georgia’s workforce has one of the lowest percentages of employees represented by unions in the nation. In 2018, about 4.5% of workers were union members, which was about a .5% increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union membership across the U.S. dipped slightly in 2018. Overall, 10.5% of wage and salary workers were part of unions in 2017, which was .2% lower than the previous year, according to labor statistics.