Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Roby: Labor Secretary owes Hyundai an apology

April 6, 2014
Representative Roby In The News

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez should apologize for questioning the safety of the Hyundai auto plant in Montgomery, U.S. Rep. Martha Roby said.

The Montgomery Republican said Perez wrongly suggested the plant was unsafe for workers during testimony Wednesday about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency responsible for workplace safety.

“We worked with Hyundai for almost five years in a compliance assistance mode to try to address these issues and we were unable to bring down the injury and illness rates,” Perez said during the hearing.

On Friday, the Labor Department clarified that Perez was referring to Hyundai suppliers.

Perez’s testimony was in response to questions from Roby about why OSHA is conducting extra inspections at auto parts plants in the South. Perez said the auto-parts industry in Alabama has a workplace safety problem because it had an injury rate per 100 workers of 4.6 — more than 50 percent higher than the national average of 3.0, according to 2010 data.

Automotive manufacturers such as Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama are not included in the data about auto parts makers.

“Hyundai are my neighbors, they’re community partners, and he should apologize,” Roby said in an interview Thursday.

The Hyundai plant in Montgomery has had a lower injury rate than the auto manufacturing industry nationally since it first opened in 2005, according to safety data provided by Hyundai.

The injury rate at the plant, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has gone up and down in the past eight years. The highest was 7.5 incidents per 100 workers in 2005, and the lowest was 3.0 in 2008. In 2013, the company reported an injury rate of 3.26 per 100 workers.

“We want to make sure the folks at Hyundai knew the only reason they are involved is because the secretary used them inappropriately in a hearing with numbers that didn’t even apply to them,” Roby said.

The Labor Department on Friday responded to Roby in a letter that the agency provided to the Montgomery Advertiser. In the letter, acting assistant secretary Adri Jayaratne said the secretary’s reference to Hyundai was prompted by several workplace incidents at Hyundai suppliers.

Hyundai, some of its suppliers, OSHA and local occupational safety experts signed an agreement in 2005 to collaborate on workplace safety procedures.

“OSHA, however, continued to find serious safety and health hazards during inspections, and therefore ended the partnership in 2010,” Jayarante wrote. “This decision was not about Hyundai’s safety record, but rather the record of its suppliers.”

Roby and Perez are at odds over whether OSHA is justified in conducting comprehensive inspections at auto parts suppliers in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi over the next two years. The “regional emphasis program” of extra inspections started in January.

Perez said the inspections are warranted because of the high injury rate from 2010, despite several years of compliance assistance and inspections; Roby alleges the agency is singling out states with right-to-work laws.

“If they were so worried about dangerous activities in 2010, why wait until 2014 to issue a regional emphasis program targeting our state and this specific industry?” Roby asked.

In the letter, Jayarante said that before the agency started the regional emphasis program, it conducted outreach and compliance assistance to help employers meet workplace safety standards before the inspections. Some employers still had violations.

“Over the past five years, OSHA has been responding to worker complaints, fatalities, and injuries in the automotive parts industry in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi,” Jayarante wrote. “For example, a worker employed at a plant in Alabama that had been inspected by OSHA on more than one occasion since 2006 suffered a double amputation.”

There are 140 companies in Alabama manufacturing car parts, according to the Alabama Department of Labor, and they employ more than 17,000 people statewide.

The inspections will focus on protections from moving machine parts, electrical hazards and hazardous releases of energy that can occur, for example, when a jammed conveyor system suddenly frees up and hurts a worker trying to clear the jam.

Click here to read this article on the publication's website.