Auto parts maker Faurecia kept workers on the job during fire at its Saline, Michigan plant

When fire erupted on June 28 at the sprawling parts plant in Saline, Michigan, 40 miles west of Detroit, many lines of workers were evacuated immediately as firefighters rushed to the scene to contain the blaze. Others were compelled to stay in the plant, and shifted from place to place to squeeze out the last ounce of production in spite of the imminent threat of toxic fumes, or worse.

The Saline Area Fire Department reported that the fire started from an electrical transformer on the roof and was contained in an equipment room inside the plant.

Rooftop after the fire (source: Saline Area Fire Department)

Little has been reported in the corporate press on the fire outside of initial reports the following day. The Detroit Free Press reported nothing more than a few comments from the Faurecia corporate spokeswoman for North America, Misty Mathews. “Everyone is safe,” she said. And “there isn’t an estimate of damages just yet.”

A supporter in the plant of the Faurecia Rank-and-File Safety Committee, a group of workers formed last year to oppose unsafe working conditions in the parts company’s facilities, told the World Socialist Web Site Autoworker Newsletter that conditions inside the plant during the fire were far different than suggested by Faurecia’s bland reassurances. “They were moving us all over the plant to keep us in there and keep us busy. But they didn’t shut down. Nobody was happy about it.”

The Faurecia factory employs around 2,000 people who produce plastic parts such as door panels and dash boards for Ford Motor Company, Stellantis and Tesla. Workers reported to the WSWS that the vast quantities of toxic chemicals which are stored on site pose an enormous hazard in the presence of fire.

But the company made no attempt to explain the cause of the conflagration or what would be done to prevent a recurrence. Predictably, Larry Robinson, the president of the local union UAW 982, and his shop committee did not utter a peep in protest.

The company is notorious for endangering the lives of workers because of its deplorable maintenance and ruthless speed-up.

“The roof was never properly done,” said Lamont Newton, who was forced out of the plant with medical disabilities in 2019. “When I was working there, all the time we had water leaks from the roof, sewage coming up from the ground. No ventilation. It did not stop them from making money. Their whole thing was don’t tell anybody, put this mask on and keep working.

“When it came to the roof leaking, it was, ‘Get a barrel, put it here and we’ll have a cleaner come and pick up the water.’” He described working on a wet, oily floor surrounded by electrical machinery on all sides.

In regard to the fire, he said, “It’s a death mill. They are going to open it back up, bring people back in, and they will give them some sob story about what they are doing to correct the issues. And it still won’t get done.”

“I just got an update,” a supporter of the rank and file committee told the WSWS on Wednesday. “They were running the presses over the holidays with backup generators because they lost power in the plant.” No one has explained if the power outage was caused by the fire, recent flooding in the area or something else.

The supporter had been forced to leave the shop because of the rampant spread of COVID-19, which was being covered up by plant management with the collusion of the local union. The pandemic has resulted in the deaths of multiple workers, several of whom she had known personally.

Fire trucks at Faurecia Saline plant (source: Saline Area Fire Department)

Faurecia has risen to the eighth largest parts supplier in the world by acquiring operations like the one in Saline, formerly run by Ford Motor Company, which the French multinational grabbed in 2012. The company is notorious for slashing wages and benefits and driving workers past the point of exhaustion in its drive to raise profitability.

As with the rest of the auto industry, Faurecia has made massive profits over the course of the pandemic. According to its first quarter financial statement for 2021, “Group sales were up by 12.2% on an organic basis, with strong outperformance in all regions.” A graph shows a jump in sales revenue of 8.9 percent (from €3,678 or $4.338 billion to €4,005 or $4.724 billion) between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021.

Lamont explained that when people die in the plant, the union supports the company’s position that the people did not die because of their brutal treatment, but rather that they had conditions that had nothing to do with the job.

“That’s what they do every time. That’s what they tell state regulators. That’s what they tell city officials in Saline, that’s what they tell OSHA, that’s what they were telling the NLRB.”

He described numerous cases of people dying at work. “There were no grief counselors. There was nothing there,” he said. “All you knew is that somebody else had died.”

When something goes wrong, Lamont says, you have a union rep telling you, “Oh I understand how you feel, blah, blah.” Then the same rep would come back and say, “Oh, I looked into it and the circumstances are that the job did not cause this death and the person had obviously some medical issues before.” Not that the company is working people to death.

The company is notorious for forcing workers to labor seven days straight, 12 hours a day for eight or 10 weeks without a break; and the UAW is in complete solidarity with the company.

“I hope that the Volvo strikers are effective in standing up to the union,” he concluded. “We need to do that here. I lost friends here. People died here that I did not know personally. Other people I did know. There is obviously a class struggle going on here and the union is with the company.”