UAW protests Dearborn supplier after health complaints

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Dearborn — The United Auto Workers union staged a small protest outside a Dearborn facility of auto supplier Ground Effects, claiming the location has unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices.

Fewer than 10 people, including two former employees, were picketing outside Ground Effects Ltd.’s Dearborn Customization plant at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Ex-workers Maria Sanchez and John D. Salazar claim to have been fired because they supported unionization of the facility less than a year ago.

“Basically, they just picked out a reason to fire me because they knew I was for the union,” said Salazar, 56, adding the official reason for his termination was falsifying documents. “I had been doing the same job for four-and-a-half years, the same way.”

Salazar, a quality control coordinator, said he would sign documents for employees because they did not have time to do so, and management previously had no problem with the process.

The Ontario-based company did not immediately respond for comment Wednesday.

The rally, led by UAW Local 600, came a week after the union says 10 complaints were filed with the Michigan Occupational Safety & Health Administration over several issues — from lack of adequate ventilation to repeated skin contact with uncured isocyanates, according to the union.

Isocyanates are widely used in the manufacture of flexible and rigid foams, fibers, elastomers and coatings such as paints and varnishes. They are increasingly used in the automobile industry.

Michigan OSHA spokeswoman Jeannie Vogel said the organization “cannot confirm or deny that a complaint was received or is in process” in an email to The Detroit News. She said there is not currently an open investigation at the facility. But if a valid employee complaint is received, it is assigned for investigation, which the organization “cannot give advance notice of.”

The Ground Effects facility at 15200 North Commerce Drive applies spray-on bedliners to pickups for Ford Motor Co.

Sanchez, 37, of Allen Park, said she and at least one other coworker who work in chambers where the bedliners are sprayed experienced headaches and other health issues.

“Once they’re done spraying the truck, we have to go in right away and we are breathing all those chemicals and touching with our hands without protection,” she said. “No gloves, no respiration, nothing.”

Sanchez said she was officially fired for not following procedures in installing screws.

UAW officials say a vote for unionization of the facility’s workforce failed in July 2015, but the National Labor Relations Board overturned the ruling due to unfair tampering of the election from the company. A settlement led to a new vote being awarded to the UAW, which officials said has not been scheduled.

“Today is to just get the point across to the management that we need a union in here. We’re being treated unfairly all the time,” said Salazar, who has worked in manufacturing for about 30 years.

NLRB documents show that union approval failed by one vote, 23-24.

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