The amicable relationship built up over the years between the UAW and Lear, the world's largest supplier of automotive seating, is being tested by a dispute at the company’s non-union plant in Selma, AL.

The clash is filling up the dockets in two different courts in Alabama and has triggered an angry exchange over employee safety between the company and the union, which has made the Selma campaign part of a broader effort to increase its visibility among non-union employees in the Southeastern U.S.

Several foreign automakers have built assembly plants in the region since the 1980s, including Hyundai, whose assembly plant near Montgomery, AL, receives components from Lear’s Renosol subsidiary in nearby Selma.

Last week, the union hailed a temporary restraining order issued by a federal judge in Mobile, AL, after the U.S. Department of Labor filed a complaint accusing Southfield, MI-based Lear of interfering with its investigation into air quality at the Selma plant.

The ruling prevents Lear from retaliating against any current or former Renosol employee who speaks with federal investigators about conditions in the plant.

Lear denies wrongdoing and says its own tests and those conducted by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Admin. show air quality in the plant, which makes foam for seat cushions and headrests, is at acceptable levels. It also contends the UAW orchestrated the dispute to win support for its organizing effort at Renosol.

The Labor Dept. complaint follows Lear’s decision to fire and then sue a former employee at the Selma plant, Kimberly King, for interfering with the company’s relations with a customer, in this case Hyundai Motor Mfg. Alabama. Lear’s lawsuit was filed in a state court in Montgomery.

King, who is being defended by lawyers hired by the UAW, was fired last month after she tried to present Hyundai with a petition in which she claimed Renosol was using a toxic substance, toluene diisocyanate, in the production of seat cushions. The petition asked the Korean automaker to order Renosol to suspend the use of TDI, which has been linked to breathing difficulties including asthma.