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Group seeks unionization at Giti Tire plant in South Carolina

A coalition comprising state officials, pastors and union leaders is calling on a tire manufacturer to improve conditions at its production facilities in South Carolina, including allowing workers to organize.

On Tuesday, a group describing themselves as “concerned community members, human rights defenders, clergy, elected officials, political activists, union leaders and educators who are committed to raising standards” reported to deliver a letter to Phang Wai Yeen, CEO of Giti. Tire Manufacturing Ltd., according to a copy of the document provided in advance to The Associated Press.

“Workers have reported compulsory overtime, unpredictable hours, low wages and the inability to have free time to spend with their families without retaliation,” according to the letter.

In 2014, Giti officials announced with great fanfare that they would build the Singapore-based company’s first US factory in Richburg, about 80 kilometers north of Columbia, starting production three years later, planning to manufacture several million tires per year when fully operational. The announcement was the culmination of an effort to make South Carolina the nation’s leading tire maker, along with other state tire makers including Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental and Trelleborg.

The company was at the heart of a 2019 lawsuit brought by Democratic State Senator Dick Harpootlian, who said he wanted to force state Department of Commerce officials to reveal details of the incentives funded by the taxpayers intended to attract businesses, including Giti, to the state. Last year, a judge ruled that the Commerce Department violated the state’s open cases law by withholding millions of dollars in state grants and tax incentives for businesses from the public.

The Commerce Department appealed the order, but Harpootlian told the AP earlier this year that he hopes the two sides can resolve the situation.

Tuesday’s letter includes signatures from several unions. These include the United Steelworkers, who already represent some South Carolina workers at Liberty Steel in Georgetown but have no contingent at Giti, although members have already demonstrated outside the facility.

Earlier this year, the union slammed the tire maker for “mis-spending millions in COVID-19 stimulus funds.” The criticism followed a report accusing Giti of taking nearly $ 10 million in federal paycheck protection program funds – including about $ 8 million at its South Carolina facility – but without recalling 100 employees. at work after a shutdown of several weeks at the start of the pandemic.

At the time, Giti officials said the company qualified for the assistance and workers on leave were offered jobs in August 2020, although some declined.

In an editorial this summer, Phang wrote that, like others, Giti was “blinded” by the pandemic but “has no questions about his decision to start operations in Chester County,” where the pledge of the company “is stronger than ever. “

On Tuesday, a representative from Giti said the company welcomed “a sincere and legitimate contribution” but added that, during the pandemic, Giti employees had moved “to a more predictable work schedule” and that they “can and should be able to communicate directly with us without the need of a third party such as a union.

“You may have union representation issues that can affect job security and long-term success,” David Shelton, Giti’s director of industrial relations, told the AP. “These are facts people need to know when deciding if a marriage is best for them and their families. “

Asking Giti to assert “the rights of workers to organize for their own safety and for job security without fear of harassment, discrimination or job loss”, the signatories of the letter – including several members of the state legislature who represent the region – have requested a meeting with company officials.