UAW, supporters rally outside Ventra

SALEM- Over 100 United Auto Workers and supporters attended a rally outside Salem Ventra, calling for the Pennsylvania Avenue plant’s owner, Flex-N-Gate Corp., to do better by its employees. The UAW rally was held in conjunction with those at six other Flex-N-Gate plants in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Texas.

According to a press release provided by the UAW, the rallies were to encourage Flex-N-Gate to “invest in its U.S. workforce by improving safety, paying livable wages and putting an end to efforts by management to intimidate workers who wish to form a union.”

Supporters gathered along the roadway near the employee entrance at the 2:30 p.m. shift change, holding signs and shouting support to passing employees, as well as encouraging passing motorists to honk their horns in support.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who oversees the union’s auto part supplier division, said that each rally attracted in excess of 100 supporters, with as many as 400 at the one in Warren, Mich., one of two plants where UAW members in the final stages of negotiating a new contract with Flex-N-Gate have voted overwhelmingly to strike, if necessary, to achieve a fair contract.

“[Supporters] who showed up weren’t just UAW members, but also customers who have refused to purchase these parts (made by Flex-N-Gate),” she said. “It’s not just about the Salem plant. It’s about customers and workers showing support for other workers.”

Estrada said the UAW had a three-pronged goal for the rallies- to show Flex-N-Gate that workers are going to stand together, to show customers that it’s unacceptable to purchase parts from a company that mistreats its employees and to show non-union workers that they are not alone.

“We wanted to send a powerful message, and I believe we accomplished that,” she said.

According to the UAW, at the five non-union plants, Flex-N-Gate workers have been trying for over a year to organize a union with the organization. The National Labor Relations Board has issued complaints against the company alleging dozens of violations of federal law in response to claims by workers in Michigan, Texas and Indiana. Workers there say the company tried to illegally discourage workers’ efforts by threatening, harassing and even firing workers simply because they supported forming a union.

A non-union plant, Ventra employs approximately 450 hourly people, according to UAW organizer Mike Gearhart.

Flex-N-Gate is a fast-growing $3 billion global auto parts supplier headquartered in Urbana, Ill. The company makes metal bumpers, interior and exterior plastic parts, lighting and stamped metal components primarily for General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan.

Flex-N-Gate’s owner, Shahid Khan, owns the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Kevin Howell can be reached at