A coalition of U.S. civil rights and labor groups used Hyundai Motor Co.'s shareholder meeting today in Seoul to prod company executives to help overturn Alabama's controversial immigration law.
Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, said after the meeting that Hyundai executives agreed to consider the matter.
A group of 15 civil rights organizations and labor unions, including the UAW and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is seeking to repeal the law. They are pressing Hyundai, Honda Motor Co. and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler AG -- among the state's largest private employers -- for help.
The groups requested meetings with the automakers' executives in January, but no formal meetings have been scheduled.
"Todaythe vice chair and CEO of Hyundai acknowledged that the company had a responsibility to respond to these issues," Henderson said. "We will press similar activity with the other automakers."
The U.S. groups were joined in Seoul by leaders of South Korea's largest labor unions.
The Alabama law went into effect in September and requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect of being in the country illegally. Other parts of the law make it a felony for illegal immigrants to apply for or renew drivers' licenses, identification cards or license plates.
The Obama administration claims Alabama is interfering with the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration policy and is challenging the law in court.
The trip to South Korea is the first of a series of shareholder meetings targeted, the coalition said. Daimler AG is scheduled to hold its annual meeting on April 4 and Honda plans its meeting in June.
Henderson and Medina attended the meeting as shareholders and read a statement that made clear that the groups will press their case as aggressively as necessary.
Henderson also presented Hyundai Chairman Chung Mong-koo with a confidential letter from former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who played a large part in bringing Hyundai to Alabama.
"We came today as shareholders working within the company to press our case," Henderson said in a statement. "By [Hyundai's] silence in Alabama, it is acquiescing to a human rights disaster. We hope we will engage leaders in thoughtful conversation about taking steps to repeal this law."
Foreign automakers support more than 45,000 jobs in Alabama, the groups said.
Said Medina: "We hope, given the response we received from the shareholders, Hyundai will do the right thing. By us coming to Korea, it should send a powerful message to Daimler and Honda that we will be having a conversation with them as well and that we expect them to also step up and add their voices to the conflict in Alabama."