Nine Mexican nationals have filed a lawsuit against Kia alleging they were misled about jobs they applied for, according to Bloomberg. The plaintiffs say they applied to work for the company as engineers, only to have them end up on the production floor doing manual labor.
Isidro Arellano, one of the plaintiffs, alleges that the company offered them positions that didn’t actually exist. Arellano says he was attending Universidad Tecnológica de Torreón in Mexico when recruiters from staffing companies on behalf of Kia came to the school looking for engineers to work at the company’s U.S. manufacturing facilities. According to the suit, these staffing companies helped them do everything from obtaining work visas — which were created according to guidelines set by NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) — to crafting resumes with fake work histories showing U.S. companies.
But when the engineers finally received positions in Kia’s West Point, Georgia, plant, it wasn’t for engineering positions. Arellano says that he and hundreds of others were put in positions doing manual labor. What’s worse, they worked longer hours and for less pay than American workers. Arellano says that he installed bumpers on vehicles and lugged steering columns around.
“I expected to work in an office, like I was used to in Mexico,” Arellano told Bloomberg. “I expected to attend meetings with executives, in an environment that was friendly. I expected what I was promised, what I signed up for.” Another engineer with seven years of experience ended up installing bumpers, speakers, and suspension pieces.
Kia and Hyundai MOBIS, Hyundai’s parts arm, issued a statement. “Kia denies the lawsuit’s allegations and will vigorously defend such claims. Kia requires that its business partners strictly adhere to all applicable laws, including immigration laws,” the company said.
Georgia has given $1.8 billion to Hyundai/Kia for an EV plant near Savannah. The automaker is promising thousands of jobs, but the lawsuit suggests it may not have enough workers to fill those roles, according to Bloomberg.
Neither state nor local officials would comment on the specific allegations in the lawsuit or the future implications for Georgia’s labor supply. They said they were taking steps to ensure an adequate workforce for the thousands of coming jobs, including a labor shortage action plan from the Savannah Joint Development Authority, a state rural housing initiative and continued investment in training, especially as related to EVs.
“Georgia is leading the way in growing and developing our workforce to fill the jobs of tomorrow created by valued partners like Kia and Hyundai,” said Garrison Douglas, a spokesman for Kemp.
But the challenge for Georgia and the rest of the US will be long-term and not easily fixed. An estimated 4 million manufacturing jobs will open over the decade, of which 2.1 million will remain unfilled, according to a 2021 report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute.
Laine Mears, a professor of automotive engineering at Clemson University in South Carolina — another state pursuing EV manufacturing — called labor among the biggest challenges. The university is working to address it, but “the talent pipeline has slowed to a trickle,” he said. “The question is ‘How do we help revitalize it?’”