Judge extends restraining order against company

Published 10:20 pm Friday, May 8, 2015

A federal judge signed a preliminary injunction Thursday leaving a temporary restraining order in place against Lear Corporation, the owner of Renosol Seating in Selma.

Former employees accuse Lear Corp. of retaliating against one of its employees for speaking out about working conditions at the plant.

The order states that Lear cannot retaliate against current or former employees for speaking out, which Lear says they haven’t done, even before the original order was issued.

Kimberly King was fired from Lear’s Selma plant in March after she went to Renosol’s main customer, a Hyundai plant in Montgomery and delivered a letter asking the plant to do something about the working conditions in Selma.

The U.S. Department of Labor requested the restraining order on Lear because to determine if King was fired as retaliation for speaking out.

“Lear fired Ms. King for one reason — to try to hide the fact that workers at its plant are getting sick on the job,” said Letasha Irby, who has worked at Renosol since 2006, according to the Selma Workers Organizing Committee, backed by the United Auto Workers.

The order also states that Lear is not required to reinstate or back pay employees unless determined through the case.

“We are very pleased and gratified with the court’s ruling that Ms. King should not be reinstated prior to the trial,” read a statement by Lear. “The court specifically recognized that, ‘It is possible … that King acted outside the scope of OSH Act protected activity.’”

King’s allegations are concerning the plant’s air quality, which has been tested seven times between May and November 2014 by OSHA and an independent company. Documents show that the plant’s air is safe for workers and below the legal limit for TDI, a chemical used to manufacture foam seats and cushions.

“Lear has no credibility when it comes to safety problems at its Selma plant,” Irby said. “Ms. King has tested positive for TDI and OSHA’s investigation has shown that there are safety problems in the plant.”

OSHA’s investigation found that the plant’s TDI level is below the legal limit, but they did fine Renosol in November for safety infractions involving protective equipment.

But the case between Lear and the U.S. Department of Labor states that it is not about the plant’s air quality. Its focus is on the alleged retaliatory actions.

“We are also very pleased with the court’s recognition that at no time has Lear violated applicable OSHA standards governing exposure limits to TDI,” Lear’s statement read.

Lear points to the United Auto Workers union for causing the allegations as a way to unionize the plant.

A deposition with an OSHA investigator that was originally on the case but later taken off of it shows that the UAW had contact with investigators.

“We are confident that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s direct testimonies will demonstrate beyond doubt that the United Auto Workers interfered in OSHA’s investigation and, in fact, actually directed the agency’s investigation itself at each level,” Lear’s statement read. “Further, we are confident that the extent of this impropriety will become public once OSHA is required to divulge a prior inspector’s findings in the full extent of the UAW interference.”