Working women and men from around the country attended Lear’s annual shareholder meeting May 14 at the company’s headquarters in Southfield, Michigan, and spoke directly to Lear Corp. CEO Matthew J. Simoncini and the company’s board of directors. Their plea? That Lear create good jobs and safe workplaces at its U.S. facilities.
The message was delivered just moments after a major protest with hundreds of autoworkers, UAW members, and community supporters demonstrated in front of the building with signs and calls for an end to low pay, unsafe working conditions, and retaliation facing workers at the $17 billion company. Lear supplies Hyundai, Mercedes, BMW, and other major automakers.
We want Lear and their stockholders to get the message loud and clear that employees want a voice and demand fair treatment,” said UAW President Dennis Williams.
UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said Lear must stop its practice of putting working women and men at risk on the job with unsafe conditions and a threatening environment for those who speak up. “Lear needs to hear the voice of its working families,” said Estrada. “The company needs to start treating those families with dignity.”
The Lear workers who addressed the shareholder meeting were joined by former Detroit NAACP Executive Director Heaster Wheeler, and UAW Local 5960 member Jeff Brown from the Lear plant in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
We are here today to ask you, Lear’s senior leadership, to consider a very important question — Why has Lear responded so aggressively to a set of reasonable proposals from your own employees? A safe workplace. A fair wage. Respectful treatment on the shop floor. A voice in the company’s future. The majority of Lear’s workers in the United States have achieved these sorts of gains, and Lear is enjoying record profits. Why don’t the other workers, who supply prosperous automakers such as Mercedes, BMW, and Hyundai, deserve the same?”
Nine-year Lear employee Letasha Irby traveled from the company’s plant in Selma, Alabama, to address company stockholders.
I am proud to be one of the people working to form a union at our plant in Selma, Alabama. There’s no doubt that by now you know my story, and the story of my co-workers. We have done dangerous work at low pay for years,” Irby told the meeting.
“I am not here to debate whether the Selma plant is safe. I know what our doctors tell us. I see the medications my co-workers have to take to treat their asthma. I’ve read what OSHA has said, and researched how a safe, efficient foam plant is supposed to operate. No matter how much management tries to scare us, or mislead us, or play games with the facts, I’m confident the truth is on our side.
“I’m here to remind you of one thing. The workers in Selma are people, human beings, children of God. We are not pawns in some game. We are not trying to hurt the company. We are not troublemakers. We want to work. We want to earn a decent living. And at the end of our shift, we want to come home safe. I am a mother of two young children. I want to be healthy and well as they grow up. I don’t want to be a burden on them when I am older. I want to be able to give them the very best. In that way, I bet I’m a lot like all of you. We all want the best for our families, and we’re all willing to do what it takes to get it. That’s why I’m still standing up, speaking out and coming together with my co-workers to call for better jobs at Lear in Selma, even after a year,” said Irby.
Lear employee Alfoniza Richardson, who also traveled from Alabama to address the meeting, told shareholders employees want fair wages. “Our pay starts at just $13.50 an hour. I’ve worked in the auto industry almost my whole life, that’s just a fraction of the pay that other workers, doing the same job as us, have been able to win through a union contract at Lear plants across the country. We’re making seat parts for luxury cars sold by Mercedes, but we’re getting paid barely more than we would make at Walmart … and our jobs involve back-breaking work. Lear can afford to provide the good jobs that we deserve and that our communities need, and we’re going to continue standing together until the company listens.”
Lear employees from other parts of the country joined with their counterparts in Alabama to show solidarity at the rally. Local 5960’s Jeff Brown spoke at the meeting in support of his brothers and sisters at other Lear plants. “My co-workers at Lear — at my plant, in Hammond, Indiana, and here in Detroit — fought hard for what we won this past year. We’ve learned a lot about what’s happening at other Lear plants, too. It’s unacceptable. These workers are our sisters and brothers, too, and we plan to stand with them until they have what they deserve, too.”
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