Chinese glass maker unveils plant at former GM site in Ohio

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 1:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 1:02am

Nearly three years after first announcing plans to re-inhabit a shuttered General Motors plant in Ohio, a Chinese automotive glass maker has completed work on its North American recycled glass manufacturing hub.

Fuyao Glass America Inc. Chairman Cho Tak Wong, a host of dignitaries and about 700 guests attended the facility’s grand opening on Friday.

Fuyao has spent roughly US$450 million to convert the former GM factory in Moraine, near Dayton, which was closed in 2008 after nearly 30 years, and an adjacent facility. It represents China’s biggest investment in the state and its eighth largest in the US.

The plant produces about 4 million units of glass a year for the North American market, including GM, Honda, BMW, Hyundai and Volkswagen. It employs more than 2,000 people. Continuing expansion is expected to add 300 to 500 more jobs by the end of next year.

The endeavour hasn’t been without its hiccups.

Eight health and safety complaints have been filed against the plant over the past year, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration records. Federal safety regulators found “serious” safety issues in two of those cases earlier this year, fining the company $14,000.

Three inspections remain open, as the company contests those complaints, according to an OSHA spokeswoman.

Fuyao workers Cynthia Harper, 54, and Timi Jernigan, 52, said the United Auto Workers is helping file the complaints, as well as a letter to OSHA seeking a broader investigation. The union is working to organise the plant, a spokesman confirmed this week.

Harper, who spent 15 years working at the plant under GM, said her safety experience since joining Fuyao in May 2015 has been “pretty rocky.” She attributed part of the disconnect to different standards for safety in the US and China.

“We work in a glass plant. People get cut,” she said. “When we worked in a union plant, we had a safety committee, an ergonomic committee. You have those things to keep you safe.”

Fuyao Vice President Dave Burrows said the company is extremely safety-conscious. He said a very small group of employees — “maybe seven or eight people when we have 2,000 workers here” — is behind the complaints.

“Those OSHA concerns were from months before that. We had taken those very seriously already,” Burrows said. “Safety is not a sometime thing here, safety is a forever thing. We have worked very, very hard in installing the safety equipment and making the plant safe for our people.”

Burrows said Fuyao has invested more than $2 million in personal safety equipment for its workers, including $300 cut-proof shirts, helmets, gloves, vests and eye protection.

Nurses and optometrists are on hand to handle health issues and provide safe eyewear, and the company’s compliance officer is a former OSHA inspector, Burrows said.

The Ohio plant is a culmination of years of patience.

The company arrived in the US in the late 1980s, with a sales-only location in South Carolina. As the company emerged as an industry leader back home, producing 70 per cent of automotive glass across China, it set its sights on US expansion. Fuyao established a glass supply centre in Detroit around 2007 and a few years later started searching for a location to set up a facility to produce replacement glass.

Michigan, Indiana and Ohio were all in the mix, said Burrows, who at the time worked for the Dayton Development Corporation.

Tak Wang has said government support influenced Fuyao’s decision to pick Ohio. The company received a $1 million workforce training grant and a $3 million economic development grant from JobsOhio, Ohio’s privatised economic development office, in conjunction with the Moraine project.