Americans who work for one of China’s biggest glass manufacturers are trying to organize a labor union at their factory in the Midwest state of Ohio.
China’s Fuyao Glass came to Dayton, Ohio, two years ago with $600 million to refurbish a closed automobile plant. The investment added about 2,000 new jobs to the local economy and boosted Fuyao’s share of the U.S. auto glass market.
But the factory has also been cited for workplace safety violations that employee Larry Yates Jr. says show different ways of doing business.
“How they work in China is not how we work over here in America," he said. "In China, you work seven days a week. You do whatever you’re told to do. And in America, you have rules and regulations and guidance that you have to go by. If you don’t go by those, you’re in trouble.”
Federal records show Labor Department inspectors have been to the Fuyao factory more times than to any other similar U.S. plant. The company has been assessed more than $100,000 in penalties for safety and health violations.
Yates says this shows it is time for Fuyao employees to organize with the United Auto Workers union, or UAW.
“With the UAW being involved, and them helping us, showing us where to go, which way to go, we can make it a safer place to work," Yates said. "Plus, we would also have a voice on the bargaining table.”
Fuyao America President Jeff Liu says the firm cooperates fully with all U.S. safety inspections and modifications. Fuyao’s approach, he says, reflects American self-reliance, not organized labor.
“In America, we advocate for the American Dream. What is the American Dream? It’s relying on yourself," he said. "It’s not going to help you by relying on someone else. So whether it’s a third party or a third person, it’s not going to work. We’re going to do our thing, and do it well. Then we’ll be able to achieve what you need.”
Fuyao is looking for ways to bridge the gap between a Chinese company and an American community. At the same time, people are also watching: Is Fuyao committed to the Dayton area? Do they care about the people who work for them?
The company is funding a $1 million local charity to demonstrate its commitment to the community.
“We’re talking about cultural clash, right?" said Dewang Cao, chairman of Fuyao Glass. "Lots of American companies set up philanthropic foundations. For a company, participating in community events and charitable works is a moral obligation, as well as a social responsibility.”
Fuyao employee Wendel Rutledge says while he knows about the charity, he would rather have help paying for his daughters’ college. But he does not believe a union is the answer.
“What do you need a union for? The rules are rules," said Rutledge. "That’s just me. I don’t believe everybody’s rules are the same. This is America. Everybody’s going to be here sooner or later. We are all going to learn to adapt to the rules and the lifestyles.”
Union backers need signatures from 30 percent of production workers to vote for organizing. Fuyao has formed a new safety committee to hear employee concerns and earlier this year gave production workers a $2-an-hour raise.