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UAW says it organized Flex-N-Gate plant in suburban Detroit

2018-12-14    from:Dustin Walsh CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS

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DETROIT -- The UAW said hourly workers at the Flex-N-Gate parts plant in Shelby Township voted Wednesday to join the union.

The UAW welcomed 309 workers into its membership ranks, the union said in an email to Crain's Detroit Business, as it continues efforts to organize more Flex-N-Gate plants across the U.S. Crain's is an affiliate of Automotive News.

The UAW has been working for nearly a decade to organize U.S. Flex-N-Gate plants. In 2012, UAW and labor supporters held protests outside the National Football League's rookie draft in New York, directed at Shahid Khan, who owns the auto supplier and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The union has long accused Flex-N-Gate of paying "unlivable" hourly wages as low as $10 an hour and creating unsafe working conditions. In recent years, only about 40 percent of Flex-N-Gate's U.S. workers were union members, the UAW told Automotive News in 2012.

"Flex-N-Gate associates receive competitive wages and enjoy quality growth opportunities in a safe working environment," Flex-N-Gate said in an emailed statement. "While the vast majority of Flex-N-Gate associates are happy with their employment, they are also free to consider whether to organize, and we will always respect whatever choice they make."

Flex-N-Gate, incorporated in 1956 and headquartered in Urbana, Ill., ranks No. 33 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers with global revenue of $7.6 billion in 2017. About 80 percent of the supplier's business -- the supply of bumpers, fascias and a variety of other parts for nearly every major automaker, is in North America, according to Automotive News research.

New plant in Detroit

The organizing of the Shelby Township plant comes only two months after Flex-N-Gate opened its $160 million Detroit plant. The non-UAW represented Detroit plant began operations in October, about 18 months after the company broke ground on a once-barren plot of land on the city's east side, producing parts for the new 2019 Ford Ranger.

The 480,000-square-foot plant employed about 240 workers, half of whom are Detroiters, when it opened with plans to reach 400 as production ramps up ahead of the Ranger going on sale in March 2019. There are 19 current openings at the Detroit plant, from assembly workers to forklift operators, according to Flex-N-Gate's website.

The win for the UAW adds to the union's rising membership in recent years. UAW membership has increased incrementally since the end of the Great Recession, up 3.5 percent in 2017 to 430,871 members. But membership remains well below its peak of 1.5 million members in 1979 and about half as large as it was 20 years ago.

Bigger issues

The union and Detroit's automakers -- General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles -- will negotiate a new four-year contract in 2019. It is expected the automakers will ask for concessions.

The UAW also remains embroiled a scandal involving fraud and conspiring with FCA to skirt the U.S. Labor Management Relations Act. Several UAW leaders and a former FCA financial analyst have been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.