Macon, Georgia – The United Steelworkers and company officials are at odds over Covid-19 conditions at a Kumho Tire USA Inc. plant in Georgia.
While the union is alleging Covid-19 safety failures at the Macon plant, the company pushed back and said the union has not done its part to encourage workers to wear masks.
The dispute is just the latest development in what has now become a years-long focus on union organisation at the plant.
In a 23 July statement, the USW claims Kumho failed to distribute masks, supply sanitiser or take other common-sense steps to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak at the Macon location.
It also alleges the company refuses to regularly and thoroughly disinfect the factory or give details about the number of workers that have tested positive for Covid-19.
"Kumho's disregard for its workers' welfare during this deadly pandemic is disappointing but not surprising," said Daniel Flippo, USW District 9 director.
Kumho claims some workers who support unionisation at the plant are not doing their part to protect themselves and their fellow workers.
"Unfortunately, some employees who have indicated they support the union refuse to wear a face mask and follow CDC basic precautionary guidelines implemented by the company,” said a company response from plant human resources director Keith Lolley.
The union, he said, “has failed to show its support and encourage Kumho employees to wear masks and comply with CDC guidelines that can slow the spread of the virus, which is disappointing."
The USW listed a variety of concerns with the company's handling of its facility.
"On 10-11 July, the company claimed it would shut down the entire facility for sanitising, but then forced two departments to stay on rather than clear everyone out for the appropriate cleaning," the USW said.
Other alleged problems include: empty hand sanitiser and soap containers; inconsistent enforcement of physical distancing at the plant; and certain sanitising products lacking labels and causing skin irritation in some, the union claimed.
"Several departments require multiple employees work closely side-by-side," the union claimed.
Kumho is following guidelines from both local authorities and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the tire maker’s statement.
"Kumho decisions related to the coronavirus are being guided by the CDC and other local authorities,” it said.
The facility had its first Covid-19 case on June 29 when a contractor tested positive.
A large portion of the company's work force resides in Bibb and Houston counties, areas with the two highest number of cases in Middle Georgia, the company said.
The plant has six known employees testing positive for the virus, and contractors' employees have seven positive cases. Another temporary staffing agency worker also has tested positive, the company said.