URBANA — About 90 people, many of them waving signs, took part in a rally outside the Guardian West facility in Urbana on Tuesday evening to support about 320 Flex-N-Gate workers at the plant who are seeking to unionize with the United Auto Workers.
"I support the rights of the employees to unionize," said Aaron Ammons, vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 119. "Workers should have the right to bargain over fair wages and a secure at-work environment. Union jobs create living wages and opportunities for people to have more healthy lifestyles."
The workers in Urbana are among about 1,500 employees hoping to unionize at Flex-N-Gate plants in three states.
The employees allege the company has not provided workers with enough information or training about hazardous chemicals with which they work and allege the company has not provided them with adequate protective gear.
None of the people taking part in Tuesday's rally appeared to be Flex-N-Gate employees.
"This was a rally largely organized by community organizations in town," said Chris Schwartz, strategic research coordinator for the UAW. "The opportunity for the Flex-N-Gate workers to speak out was at an earlier event held on Saturday."
Meanwhile, Flex-N-Gate said it stood by its statement from Saturday in which it said, "Guardian West, like all FNG facilities, matches or surpasses all environmental and OSHA requirements."
On Tuesday, the company released a letter from OSHA's Peoria area office that gave results from industrial hygiene samplings conducted Dec. 15, Jan. 28 and Feb. 9 at Guardian West.
The letter listed permissible exposure limits for five contaminants — hexavalent chromium, chromic acid/chromates, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid and nickel — and the amounts of them found in nine employee samplings.
In each case, the amount found was below the permissible exposure limit, according to the letter.
In the letter, OSHA asked Guardian West to notify its employees of the results of air samplings at the plant.
The OSHA letter also noted that companies are required to inform employees exposed to toxic or harmful substances of exposure records and the rights of employees to access those records.
Employees of Guardian West filed complaints in December with the Peoria area office of OSHA, asking for more information and training in how to deal with chemicals.
Barry Salerno, acting area director for that office, said the agency has up to six months to investigate the complaints and should wrap up its investigation by June. He said he could not comment on the complaints until the investigation is complete.
David Gill, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the new 13th District seat in the U.S. House, attended, handing out campaign cards.