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Published: Saturday, 12/3/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Deal or not, Cooper sets 30-day limit for full power

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BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

FINDLAY -- A Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. official said Friday the company's Findlay tire plant will be back to full production in less than 30 days, whether it reaches an agreement with its locked-out union or not.

Chris Ostrander, president of North American tire operations for the Fortune 500 firm, said some of the company's salaried employees have been making tires since Tuesday. The company continues to move forward with a contingency plan to bring in temporary workers.

"There will be a slight disruption to our existing production," Mr. Ostrander said. "We do expect in less than 30 days we will be at 100 percent production in the plant."

The plant is one of the company's most important for the American market, producing 20 to 25 percent of all Cooper tires sold in the United States. Union members say they typically make about 20,000 tires a day. The company said it has an adequate supply of tires to meet demand.

Cooper Tire locked out its 1,050 union workers Monday in response to the union rejecting a labor contract proposal the United Steelworkers members consider concessionary. The company disputed that, saying what the union rejected preserved most members' wages and would have made changes necessary to keep the plant competitive.

Negotiations were ongoing Friday with no indications of a pending deal. Mr. Ostrander said the company made another offer Thursday to extend the contract that expired Oct. 31 by a year. The union rejected it.

Patrick Gallagher, a union subdirector for the United Steelworkers, said the union wants a long-term deal.

"A one-year extension, they won't have to talk to us, they won't have to work with us. That buys them an extension and puts it way out," he said.

The union offered a 30-day extension, which the company declined over concerns of negotiation with both the Findlay plant and its Texarkana, Ark., plant at the same time. The contract in Texarkana expires in about two months, and the membership there has authorized its leaders to call a strike if necessary. The membership in Findlay has not taken such a vote.

One contract change in Findlay the company wants is to set minimum production numbers for employees. Cooper Tire pledged to provide training and give employees two years to meet the standard. Asked how many employees would meet them at this time, Mr. Ostrander said: "I don't know the answer to that. All I know is we have many people who aren't meeting what we feel to be the minimum standard."

If the company brings in temporary workers, Mr. Ostrander said, they would all have manufacturing background and people put to work making tires will have that background. The company may bring in supervisors from its nonunion Tupelo, Miss., plant to help, but is not at this time considering bringing hourly workers from there.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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