By a razor-thin margin, workers at Golden Dragon Copper USA in Pine Hill elected to unionize the plant last November.
The vote at the Wilcox County factory was 75 to 74 to join the United Steelworkers, according to union officials. Daniel Flippo, the district nine director for the union, says the closeness of the election was no surprise to him.
“The company hired an outside law firm to run a vicious, anti-union campaign, ” says Flippo, adding that the company brought in letters from Gov. Robert Bentley, urging workers to vote no. “So when you’re totally barraged by an anti-union firm, and frankly, the state government, day in and day out, that has to have an effect.”
In a letter dated Nov. 5, Bentley urged workers to vote no. Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said in December in a written statement to Business Alabama that, “We were disappointed in the outcome of the unionization vote at GD Copper USA plant, which has been working through start-up issues after launching operations only a few months ago. At the same time, we remain hopeful that this issue won’t serve to discourage future investment and job creation at a facility located in one of Alabama’s poorest areas.”
But for the workers like Joseph Boykins, 49, of Thomasville, who says he has worked at the plant since February 2013, concerns over fairness and job security, wages, safety and worries over high health insurance co-pays helped sway the vote.
“We ran a good, clean campaign, ” says Boykins. “I’m happy that people had the courage to put it through.”
For almost two years prior to the vote, the United Steelworkers assisted GD Copper employees in advocating for a union, says Fentre Graves, a United Steelworkers staff organizer.
Besides GD Copper and the International Paper plant in Pine Hill, the Steelworkers union has held successful campaigns at places like the International Paper plant in Selma, PCA Packaging Corp. of America in Jackson, the chemical plant AkzoNobel Inc. in Axis, and the BASF chemical plant in McIntosh, Flippo says.
Since the campaign, GD Copper USA officials have filed an objection to the vote with the National Labor Relations Board that oversees union elections, Graves says.
Meanwhile, Graves says that the United Steelworkers and others have filed a complaint with the NLRB against GD Copper USA, alleging that Boykins, who was vocal in supporting the union, was demoted, which violates the National Labor Relations Act.
GD Copper USA opened its $100 million plant in Pine Hill with a ribbon cutting ceremony last May. The plant, which says it has about 150 workers, makes copper tubing for air conditioners, refrigerators and other machines. It is a subsidiary of Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group in Xinxiang, China. The parent company lists 2013 global sales of more than $5 billion.
Text by Gail Allyn Short