A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday in response to a Selma whistleblower complaint against a Selma, Ala., Hyundai supplier accused of retaliating against whistleblowers who have been voicing concerns over safety violations and exposure to hazardous chemicals on the job.
An order filed by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in An Alabama federal court expressly prohibits the Lear Corporation and subsidiary Resonol Seating from firing, suspending, suing, harassing, threatening, or otherwise retaliating against any of its current or former employees.
The Resonol plant employs more than 80 people in an assembly line producing foam seats for its sole customer, the Hyundai auto plant in Montgomery. The workers use chemicals called isocyanates, which can cause persistent or recurring eye irritation, nasal congestion, dry or sore throat, cold-like symptoms, cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. Exposure can also lead to the development of asthma, which in some cases has been de deadly, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In December, workers at the Selma Resonol factory held a town hall meeting to discuss their employer’s alleged safety violations and the impact those violations have had on their on their health.
Then in March, Resonol worker Kimberly King, 50, one of several workers sickened by the chemical exposures, led a protest against the working conditions. They raised their concerns with Hyundai management and asked the automaker to demand that its suppliers take more efforts to protect workers and to pay them adequately.
“I work hard all day making foam for Hyundai car seats, but Hyundai refuses to take responsibility for the fact that we are getting sick and struggling on low wages at its supplier plants like Renosol,” Ms. King told AL.com during a recent protest. “Hyundai has the power — and the responsibility — to make sure that the jobs it supports pay decent wages and do not put our health at risk. And until the company listens, our movement will only grow stronger.”
When Ms. King arrived for work on Monday following the protest, Lear suspended her without pay and requested that she sign a statement admitting that she had lied, AL.com reported. When she returned to work and still refused to sign the statement, Lear fired her.
“I feel like I’m being punished for speaking up,” King told NBC on March 17, the day after she was fired.
Lear maintains that King lied about exposure to toxins and about a federal safety and health investigation in her letter to Hyundai. But an OSHA investigation found Resonol workers were not adequately protected from exposure to the hazardous chemicals.
Yale University medical researchers also tested the blood of the Resonol workers and confirmed that the results indicated a high likelihood working at the plant made them sick.
The judge’s restraining order allows Ms. King to return to work.