Funtional Devices Sign.JPG

A pro-union sign can be seen along U.S. 31 in Tipton County near Functional Devices on Wednesday.

SHARPSVILLE — The onsite vote scheduled Wednesday by Functional Devices workers on whether to form a union has been postponed and changed to mail-in ballots, according to United Auto Workers officials.

Brian Rothenberg, UAW International director of public relations, said in an email Wednesday the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees the election, pushed back the vote because of COVID-19. He said the vote will now be by mail-in ballots that will be sent out next week.

Voice messages left Wednesday afternoon with the NLRB seeking more information on the change were not returned.

According to a COVID-19 operational update posted by the NLRB in April, regional directors who oversee elections “have discretion as to when, where, and if an election can be conducted, in accordance with existing NLRB precedent.”

“In doing so, Regional Directors will consider the extraordinary circumstances of the current pandemic, to include safety, staffing, and federal, state and local laws and guidance,” the post said.

The last-minute switch comes after union officials say the company told the Tipton County Sheriff’s Department they didn't want anyone on their property, forcing a large demonstration of UAW supporters to cancel rallies there on Tuesday and Wednesday.

UAW 685 had asked for up to 200 volunteers to show up on the two days to offer support for those voting in favor of forming a union.

UAW International Representative Colleen Springate said there is no parking on the county road by the plant or on Commerce Drive leading into Functional Devices, forcing the union to cancel the demonstration since they couldn’t gather at Functional Devices, according to Facebook post by UAW Local 292.

“The logistics of having a demonstration of support ... have become too great to overcome,” Springate said in the post.

She said she would meet with the Tipton County sheriff to discuss placing signs of support near the facility.

At least 30% of workers at the plant have already signed cards or a petition saying they want a union, which allowed the NLRB to organize a union election.

If 50% of workers vote in favor, the NLRB will certify the union as workers’ representative for collective bargaining. If approved, workers would become members of the UAW.

Workers began looking into unionizing earlier this year, when UAW officials came at least twice to talk to employees about the process and show support for their effort.

Employees in support of unionizing said they want a contract with the company that brings fair wages, better benefits and workplace safety.

Functional Devices President Mark Fernanes previously said a union isn’t necessary at the facility, and the company already provides employees with competitive wages and benefits in a positive work environment.

“As the President of Functional Devices, I care deeply about the employees and do not believe we need a third party between ourselves and our employees,” he said in a statement.

UAW 2B District Director Wayne Blanchard said workers want to unionize in part because they feel like management isn’t listening to their concerns anymore.

“Since the new leadership has come into the facility, employees no longer feel valued or heard when it comes to benefits, wages, health and safety and true partnership,” he said in an email.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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