DETROIT -- UAW members and supporters rallied Wednesday at a Flex-N-Gate plant in Warren, Mich., and other company facilities to bring attention to what the union cites as mistreatment of workers and lagging wages and benefits.
The automotive supplier -- owned by billionaire Shahid Khan and based in Urbana, Ill. -- has become a high-profile target of the UAW.
UAW President Bob King has made organizing a top priority to rebuild the union's membership ranks. After several years of concessions and givebacks, prompted by the auto industry's downturn, the union is also pressing to enhance wage and benefits for existing workers.
The union held rallies at seven Flex-N-Gate plants in five states to secure a better contract for employees and organize workers at another plant. About 40 percent of the company's U.S. operations are unionized.
Ahead of Wednesday's rallies, the UAW said the demonstrations would "shine a light on the company's treatment of workers at its nonunion facilities" and "support … workers bargaining for new contracts."
Greg Stoey, vice president of the UAW local that represents employees at Chrysler's proving grounds in Chelsea, Mich., said it was important to show solidarity and rally around workers at the Warren plant.
The union's chief concerns are contracts, wages and safety for Flex-N-Gate workers, UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said.
Estrada said employees at non-unionized Flex-N-Gate plants earn about $10 per hour even if they have more than 10 years of service with the supplier.
UAW workers at Flex-N-Gate operations earn about $14 per hour, she said.
Working conditions at the company's non-unionized plants are worse than at unionized plants, Estrada added.
"These aren't just allegations," she said. "There's been (NLRB) charges against [Flex-N-Gate]."
Workers at a Flex-N-Gate plant in Texas have been illegally terminated or disciplined for trying to unionize there, according to a National Labor Relations Board order and decision issued last June.
"They want a voice in the workplace, and we want to help them with that as much as we can," said Tiffany Bush, a UAW member who works at Blue Cross Blue Shield.
"Flex-N-Gate associates receive competitive wages, enjoy quality growth opportunities and benefit from our ongoing commitment to safe working conditions," the company said in statement to Automotive News on Tuesday. "The vast majority of Flex-N-Gate associates are happy with their employment."
Khan, with a net worth estimated at $2.5 billion by Forbes and who also owns the National Football League's Jacksonville Jaguars, was also targeted by the UAW and union allies during last year's NFL draft.
"We're getting too much taken from us," Keely Bell, a member of UAW Local 140 in Warren, a suburb that borders Detroit's northeast side. "It's time to stand together and say, 'We've had enough.'"
Flex-N-Gate ranks No. 56 on the Automotive News list of the top 100 global suppliers, with worldwide parts sales to automakers of $3.4 billion in 2011.