USA: Death at Alabama factory supplying Hyundai & Kia “exposes the American factory dream" (Financial Times)

Author: Gary Silverman, Financial Times, Published on: 6 February 2017

"A death in Alabama exposes the American factory dream", 5 Feb 2017

...Chambers County has been enjoying a manufacturing revival. A hardscrabble corner of the southern US with 34,000 residents, its economy was hurt badly by the decline of its textile industry early this century. However, local officials offering tax breaks and other aid remade the county into a supply-chain link for South Korean carmakers. New factories arose to provide just-in-time parts for two nearby assembly plants — Hyundai in Montgomery, Alabama, and Kia in West Point, Georgia. As a result, unemployment in Chambers County fell from 19.4 per cent in February 2009 to 5.5 per cent last year. But the conditions Elsea encountered on her highly automated production line were a far cry from the ones that people were dreaming about at the Donald Trump campaign rallies. Elsea found work as a temporary employee — she was paid $8.50 an hour, according to her family — and the work killed her...In December, Osha levied a $2.5m penalty against Ajin [part of Wooshin Systems], accusing it of 23 violations of federal safety rules, most of them “wilful”, in Elsea’s accident...Elsea’s family has also filed suit, seeking damages from Ajin and Joynus. Ajin, which is contesting the claims, said: “That we would knowingly and deliberately put any employee’s safety at risk is patently false.” Joynus and Alliance have paid Osha fines totalling $33,500 in the case. Neither responded to a request for comment. Dr Michaels, who gave up his post on January 10, blames the lack of safety at the parts makers on the practices of Hyundai and Kia. While procedures at their assembly plants were generally “fine”, he said in an interview before he left Osha, the two companies put “great pressure” on their suppliers, creating a “just-in-time production system on steroids” that leads to mishaps. “As far as I can tell, there is no requirement to do work safely,” he said. “It isn’t that different from the supply-chain issues we talk about in Bangladesh.” Asked to comment on Dr Michaels’ allegations, a Hyundai spokesman referred the Financial Times to a statement it issued after Elsea’s death, offering its condolences and saying its suppliers are required to adhere to a company code of conduct compliant with Osha standards... [subscription only]

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Related companies: Hyundai Group Hyundai Kia Motor Wooshin Systems