This week’s unionization vote at the Fuyao Glass America Inc. plant in Moraine could be a coup for the United Auto Workers, which is trying to gain a foothold in the largest Chinese-owned manufacturing operation in Ohio.
“It’s popping up in my feed,” said Kristen Dzicek, director of the Labor and Industry Group at the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research, referring to her Twitter feed.
With some 1,500 to 1,600 potential bargaining unit members, winning the plant would be a big boost for the UAW, which has seen national membership rise from a low of 355,191 in 2009 to 416,000 this year.
The membership numbers are still dramatically below the approximately 1.5 million enrolled members in the late 1970s.
Dzicek said UAW membership has grown due to the resurgence of the domestic auto industry and growth at already-organized companies.
“What I know about organizing is that workers don’t vote for the union because they want to get a few extra bucks,” Dzicek said. “They’re usually voting for the union because they want a sense of fairness in the workplace. They want a voice in what’s going on.”
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will oversee the vote, which will take place at the plant and be divided into three four-hour sessions, beginning Wednesday evening and continuing Thursday. If all goes smoothly, Matthew Denholm, assistant director for the NLRB Cincinnati office, said he expects NLRB staff will have a vote count by 7-7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We’re very confident,” said Rich Rankin, director of UAW’s Region 2-B, which includes the Dayton area. “We have a lot of support inside the plant.”
Management for Fuyao did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story. Last month, Fuyao General Counsel Micah Siegal said: “We respect our associates’ right to support or oppose the UAW. We believe most Fuyao associates prefer to continue working with Fuyao directly and do not support the union.”
Area lawmakers have begun to weigh in on the vote. U.S. Rep. Mike Turner issued a press release Wednesday saying he has “deep concern” about the unionization effort.
“Having an intermediary involved could cause harm to you and your employees and prevent future investment and growth in our community,” he wrote in a letter to the Fuyao president. “This would also send a negative message to others who may be considering investing here in the Miami Valley.”
‘You never know what’s coming’
The unionization vote follows worker complaints about plant policies on attendance and vacation changing on the apparent whim of management. Others point to safety citations by Cincinnati-area Occupational Safety and Health Administration staff, arguing that the plant can be a dangerous place to work.
And others talk of simple but profound communication barriers between American workers and Chinese staff who are veterans of Fuyao and have traveled from China to America to help get the relatively new plant running.
“You never know what’s coming,” Suzanne Roberts, a former Fuyao worker, said at a Oct. 25 UAW rally outside Fuyao’s Moraine plant. “You never know. Because every time they come around, they (plant management) say this (policy) was changed.”
“The communication barrier is terrible,” she added. “They don’t even understand what we’re saying.”
Although the company did not respond to a request for comment about this story, company officials previously have said their attendance policies and overall turnover are comparable to what other manufacturers experience.
No sure thing
The union vote is no slam-dunk. Between 2010 and 2016 in NLRB-sanctioned employer-UAW elections, management won 44 elections and the UAW won 43 elections, according to Dzicek.
“They win as many as they lose,” she said of the union efforts. “That’s been the case for quite some time.”
State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., whose Ohio House district encompasses the Fuyao plant on West Stroop Road in Moraine, said any problems at the plant should be handled locally.
“In general, I think that we don’t need people in Washington, D.C., who are getting paid millions of dollars in union fees, telling Daytonians what to do,” he said, referring to the UAW. “That should be decided locally; that should be decided internally.”
But Ohio Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, who signed a letter urging company leaders to work with a union should workers choose to go in that direction, said the presence of a union could serve as a bridge between management and workers and perhaps stabilize turnover.
“I think it’s a win-win for Fuyao and for workers,” Strahorn said. “Everybody knows that a stable workforce at your company is a good idea and helps profitability. If you’ve got high turnover, that’s costing you money.”
Antani said he’s worried about the message a successful union vote would send to potential employers looking to locate here or expand their operations.
“I know for a fact that when you have Kentucky holding votes on right-to-work (laws), when you have Indiana and Michigan and all of our border states — we might be the only union state left in the Midwest,” Antani said. “And I don’t know that that is good for middle-class Ohioans.”
In his letter to the company last week, Turner made a reference to the historic nature of the Fuyao location, where General Motors employees assembled SUVs for years and where Turner said the UAW worked to close the plant because its workers were represented by the IUE-CWA.
“Many in our community remember the Moraine facility was once a thriving GM facility and was shut down because of a deal by GM and the UAW,” Turner wrote. “Thousands of jobs were lost. Why would we trust the UAW with such an important site when they played a role in its prior closure?”
The UAW denies the charge.
“I don’t know everything that happened with the GM-Moraine assembly plant, but I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the UAW had nothing to do with that plant closing,” Rankin said last week.
The UAW vote this week could have a wide-ranging impact, Fuyao Glass America President Jeff Daochuan Liu suggested in a statement last month after the union first filed for an NLRB election at the plant.
“Fuyao is among the first large Chinese manufacturers to establish significant operations in the United States,” he wrote. “Other investors are watching us closely and what happens here.”
By the numbers:
About 2,000: Number of total Fuyao Glass America employees.
1,500-1,600: Number of workers eligible to vote in the National Labor Relations Board election this week.
416,000: UAW’s national membership.
1.5M: The union’s national membership toward the end of the 1970s.
November 2013: The city of Moraine applies for Montgomery County development funds to assist bringing an unnamed large manufacturer to the city’s former General Motors plant.
January 2014: Cho Tak Wong, founder and chairman of Fuyao Global, announces a desire to build an auto glass manufacturing operation at the former GM-Moraine plant, employing what he says intially will be about 800 workers. The announcement happens at the Ohio Statehouse with Gov. John Kasich at Cho’s side.
May 2014: In a Sinclair Community College conference room, Cho writes a $15 million check to Stu Lichter — principal of Industrial Realty Group and owner of the plant — buying the plant.
March 2016: A UAW official first publicly acknowledges that the union is interested in organizing Fuyao.
Summer 2014-today: The plant is physically remade, and today about 2,000 workers are employed there.