Kingspan workers in California take action for safety, workplace protections

February 1, 2024

More than 125 people rallied and marched in support of workers at Santa Ana Kingspan Light + Air on October 20, occupying an intersection in downtown Santa Ana, California, and unfurling a giant parachute banner that read “¡Kingspan Escucha!” as they called on the multi-billion-dollar building materials manufacturer to listen to workers’ concerns.

The rally was the latest in a series of actions Kingspan workers have taken in the face of workplace safety violations and alleged indoor air pollution.

In Santa Ana, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) fined Kingspan $21,785 in 2022 for 22 violations of the health and safety code — including five serious violations — after workers filed a complaint. Thanks to their courage, the workers won key safety provisions, including ventilator masks. But workers remain concerned that several of the violations the company abated last year are recurring.

In August 2021, Kingspan Santa Ana workers teamed up with University of California, Irvine professor and air pollution scientist Dr. Shahir Masri over a three-day period to document the levels of air pollution inside their factory. The results showed average levels of particulate matter that, if measured outdoors, would fall between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” on the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index.

“Management just kind of does whatever they feel they need to do to maybe stay compliant, but a lot of my coworkers still feel that the changes they’ve made aren’t actually beneficial to them.”

And in the same year, workers blew the whistle on Kingspan Santa Ana with the California Environmental Protection Agency, alleging the company was not adhering to parts of its pollution prevention program. In May 2023, Kingspan settled and paid $45,000 to the Santa Ana Water Board for “serious and chronic” violations of its General Permit for Storm Water Discharges associated with its industrial permit.

“Management just kind of does whatever they feel they need to do to maybe stay compliant, but a lot of my coworkers still feel that the changes they’ve made aren’t actually beneficial to them,” said Lucas Hernandez, a Kingspan Santa Ana field service tech, during the October 20 rally.

Workers are also standing together against alleged safety violations in Kingspan Insulated Panels’ Modesto plant. On September 6, 2023, seven Modesto Kingspan workers filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA, alleging exposure to insulation dust and hazardous chemicals, unsanitary conditions due to an indoor infestation of pigeons, a history of inadequate training for hazardous materials, and a lack of personal protective equipment, among other complaints. The workers painstakingly documented the alleged issues themselves, delivering a detailed complaint to OSHA and a signed copy to the plant manager following OSHA’s unannounced inspection.

“On one occasion, a chemical was spilled out. And the smell was very strong all over the department. I was actually having a headache, because it was so strong,” said Kingspan Modesto worker Celina Arellano, one of the signers of the Cal/OSHA complaint. “When a chemical is spilled out, they must evacuate us, because it’s very strong, and they didn’t do anything … they kept running the line.”

Arellano was fired the week after workers delivered a copy of their Cal/OSHA complaint to Kingspan management. SMART has filed unfair labor practice charges against Kingspan challenging her termination. Kingspan workers continue to lead the way as they advocate for the working conditions that they deserve.

“We want to be heard, and we want to hear from [Kingspan] that they’re going to support us, that they’re going to be behind us as a workforce,” said Kingspan Modesto worker Arturo Lopez during the October 20 Santa Ana rally. “I really hope Kingspan listens to its workers and decides to change.”