WASHINGTON — Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is taking Goodyear to task for alleged labor violations at its tire plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, but Goodyear is hitting back, claiming Mr. Brown has misconstrued its actions and attitude toward its workers there.
In a Sept. 11 letter to Goodyear Chairman Richard Kramer, Mr. Brown accused Goodyear of labor violations at the plant it opened in 2017 in Mexico and urged the tire maker to "take immediate steps to improve the company's compensation and conduct toward (its) workers in Mexico."
The controversy began earlier this year, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tasked four Democratic members of the House of Representatives with obtaining changes to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would ensure bipartisan support.
On July 20, the members of Congress — Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Terri Sewell of Alabama and Jimmy Gomez of California — visited San Luis Potosi and requested admittance to the Goodyear plant.
According to them, Goodyear refused.
After their return, the members of Congress wrote Mr. Kramer, saying they were "disappointed" at Goodyear's refusal.
They also said they spoke privately with several workers who were fired from the San Luis Potosi plant after striking.
"The workers provided compelling testimony about the poor working conditions, lack of protective gear and safety and overall training provided to workers, non-reporting of hazards, deductions that are taken from already low wages, and discrimination and harassment (directed at women workers especially) at the Goodyear facility," they wrote.
At the time, Goodyear said it "strongly" disagreed with the assertions in the letter.
Mr. Brown followed up with his Sept. 11 letter to Mr. Kramer, criticizing the company not only for labor conditions at San Louis Potosi but also for building the factory in Mexico instead of in the U.S.
"Both the company's decision to locate the factory in Mexico and its blocking of congressional access to the facility make it easy to draw conclusions about the company's mistreatment of its workers at the plant," Mr. Brown wrote.
Mr. Brown said he asked Goodyear to build the plant in Ohio instead of Mexico.
"In addition to pushing for the creation of good-paying jobs in my state, I feared that a Mexico-based plant would lead to the shuttering of U.S. facilities due to significantly labor costs across the border," he wrote.
"It seems my fears have been realized," he added. "Your company recently laid off 170 employees at the Gadsden, Ala., plant and proposed a buyout at the same facility."
Mr. Brown urged Goodyear to increase wages at San Luis Potosi and also to allow the workers union representation other than the Confederation of Mexican Workers, which he said has "historically been aligned with employers."
In its response to Mr. Brown, Goodyear said it "strongly disagree(d)" with Mr. Brown's assertions. Among other things, it said it recently extended invitations to members of Congress and their staffs to tour the San Luis Potosi plant.
"We pride ourselves on our 100 years of maintaining strong working relationships with our associates around the world and the unions that represent them," the company said. "In fact, we are unique among U.S. companies in that a representative of the United Steelworkers sits on our board of directors."
Only 3.5% of Goodyear tires sold in the U.S. in 2018 were produced in Mexico, the company said.