Macon, GA – Workers at Kumho Tire in Macon alerted health officials July 20 to rampant COVID-19 safety failures in their workplace.
The workers, who voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW) despite Kumho’s repeated efforts to thwart the election, expressed both the fear that they are unprotected from contracting the coronavirus at the tire plant and their concern that the lack of precautions could put the wider community at risk.
They addressed the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health during a public meeting conducted by telephone because of the pandemic.
The workers said Kumho failed to adequately distribute face masks, supply sanitizer or take other common-sense steps to prevent an outbreak of the virus. Now, as COVID-19 sweeps through the plant, company officials refuse to implement consistent social distancing or provide sufficient paid sick leave for workers forced into quarantine.
“The only thing important to them is the tires,” said one worker, who brings his own mask and sanitizer to the plant yet still fears catching the virus because he has close contact with colleagues on every shift.
While expecting workers to risk COVID-19 without proper safeguards, he said, managers “won’t come out on the floor anymore because they don’t want to get it and take it home to their families.”
Other workers reported that Kumho still refuses to regularly and thoroughly disinfect the factory, consistently limit the use of common areas or give details about the rash of COVID-19 cases, such as the number of colleagues infected.
In 2017, workers narrowly lost a unionization vote after Kumho waged an illegal campaign of harassment and intimidation. An administrative law judge found the company’s misconduct so egregious that he not only ordered a new election but directed the company to read a list of its violations.
During the second election, held last fall, workers voted 141 to 137 for USW representation, with 13 additional challenged ballots. Kumho dragged out the appeals process, but the National Labor Relations Board last week ordered the remaining ballots counted. No date has been set for the count.
“Workers voted to unionize because Kumho refused to treat them fairly,” District 9 Staff Representative Alex Perkins said. “The company’s callous failure to protect them from COVID-19 shows just how urgently they need union protections.”
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