Kumho Workers Look Forward to First Contract

USW members at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., are preparing to negotiate their first contract with the company after a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) official in January certified the workers’ organizing victory and dismissed the company’s remaining objections.

The January ruling from the board’s acting Region 10 director followed a November decision from NLRB hearing officer Brenna C. Schertz that discredited the company’s objections to the workers’ vote, determining that one company witness fabricated testimony and that Kumho presented “nonsensical” evidence and made allegations that were “wholly without merit.” 

The next step now is for members to sit down and bargain a first contract with the company after overcoming years of Kumho’s oppressive anti-union tactics. Even after the result of the workers’ vote was clear, the company continued to file objections in an effort to overturn the election.

Objections Dismissed

The NLRB Regional Director dismissed some of those objections months ago, and Schertz recommended overruling the remaining Kumho’s objections and certifying the workers’ election. The final decision now rests with the NLRB regional director.

“Since the start of the organizing campaign, Kumho has employed every underhanded tactic possible to thwart the election, break the will of its workers and silence them,” said District 9 Director Daniel Flippo, who represents Georgia and six other southern states as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“It’s time for the company to face facts,” he said. “Workers voted to unionize so they could obtain decent wages and safe working conditions. Kumho must now come to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith for the fair contract their workers earned.”

A Struggle Ahead

James Golden, a belt-cutter operator who has worked at the Kumho factory for two years, said that while he knows that the road ahead for the work force in Macon may not be easy, he hopes that the worst is behind them.

“It’s going to be a struggle,” Golden said of bargaining the first contract with the company. “We can see the finish line, but I think the process is going to be grueling. But once the company realizes that the union is here and is not going away, then we can get down to business.”

Golden said he hopes the workers’ first contract raises wages at the facility while improving workplace safety and morale.

“Hopefully we can come to an agreement and both sides can get what they want out of this and move on,” he said.

Relentless Bullying

It’s been a long, difficult road for the Kumho workers to get to this point. In 2017, they narrowly lost in their first organizing attempt after the company waged a vicious union-busting campaign that included threats against its own workers.

Kumho’s behavior during the 2017 campaign was so egregious that Administrative Law Judge Arthur J. Amchan not only ordered a new election but took the extraordinary step of ordering the company to read workers a list of its numerous labor law violations.

Kumho’s violations included illegally interrogating employees, threatening to fire union supporters, threatening plant closure, and creating an impression of surveillance.

In one particularly egregious case, Kumho tried to make an example of quality control worker Victoria Whipple, who was pregnant and working overtime to make extra money. As the election was wrapping up in September 2019, managers pulled Whipple off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay in retaliation for her support of the union. She was later reinstated.

“The workers’ solidarity in the face of extreme intimidation shows just how urgently they need the workplace protections that only a union can provide,” said Flippo. “Their victory over an abusive, greedy company should inspire other workers who want to end the mistreatment they face from their own employers.”

‘A Better Quality of Life’

Golden said that even after the workers’ election victory, there is still some hostility between labor and management at the plant. He believes that once a contract is in place, it can be a step forward for both the workers and the company.

“I hope when we get a contract, it will improve quality in terms of the workplace environment in addition to improving the quality of the products we make,” Golden said. 

Flippo said that he hopes the Kumho victory, especially in the face of long odds and persistent, well-funded opposition, provides inspiration for other workers to organize.

“In forming a union and holding Kumho to account,” he said, “these workers will help set stronger pay and workplace standards for the whole industry.”

The Kumho case is a perfect example of why American workers need stronger labor protections, including measures like the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would streamline union organizing and impose more severe penalties against bad actors like Kumho, said International President Tom Conway.

“The hard-working members in Macon should be proud of this victory, but it should never have taken this long or been this hard,” said Conway. “The reason companies like Kumho think they can get away with busting unions is because so many have done so in the past. It’s time for the bullying and harassment of workers to stop. The right to organize must be protected.”

Golden said that he hopes that once the tension of Kumho’s union-busting campaign fades and a contract is in place, the workers at the facility can get back to doing what they do best – making quality tires.

“The people here like what they do, and they like the people they work with,” Golden said. “We’re not just here to work and go home. We’re here to build a better quality of life.”

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