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Automotive

Cooper, union won’t restart talks ‘til ‘12

Feds probe bad-faith bargaining claims

Negotiating teams from Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and the United Steelworkers Union haven’t met in weeks and aren’t set to meet again until after the first of the year.

Ron Coldren, Local 207L’s financial secretary, said Tuesday the union hopes to meet again next Tuesday or next Wednesday, likely again in the presence of a federal mediator.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board continues to investigate allegations each side has filed against the other.

“Both parties are accusing the other of bad-faith bargaining,” said Steve Wilson, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB regional office in Cleveland. “The union’s charge is a bit more expansive. It challenges the lawfulness of the lockout. But in a nutshell, both parties are accusing the other of bad-faith bargaining.”

Cooper locked out the 1,050 hourly employees at its Findlay manufacturing plant Nov. 28, days after the union rejected a contract offer and about a month after the previous contract expired.

Cooper officials filed a charge with the NRLB Nov. 29, alleging labor officials engaged in illegal bargaining tactics.

The union followed with a Dec. 6 charge accusing the company of various violations, including that the company negotiated overall in bad faith, falsely declared an impasse in negotiations, refused to bargain because the union’s proposal did not look like the company’s proposal, and insisted on an incomplete pay proposal that didn’t allow union members to evaluate whether earnings would increase or decrease.

Mr. Wilson said NLRB investigators are gathering information, evidence, and sworn statements. The regional director then will decide whether either or both charge has merit, and if they do, the matter will go before an administrative judge.

Mr. Wilson said no dates have been set, although the NLRB hopes to make a decision by the end of January.

The two sides met 45 times between Sept. 7 and Nov. 28 to negotiate toward a new contract.

Only four negotiating sessions have taken place since the lockout, with the last being Dec. 13.

Company officials have said they have offered extensions of the current contract seven times, most recently on Dec. 20. Company spokesman Michelle Zeisloft said the union did not respond to that offer, which would have extended the contract starting Dec. 26 until Feb. 29, 2012, or 30 days after employees at the Texarkana, Ark., plant enter a new pact, whichever happened last.

“We do not believe that the union has communicated all of these offers to their membership nor shared them fully with the media because their motives for keeping their membership on the picket line would become blatantly clear,” Ms. Zeisloft wrote in an email to The Blade.

The company has expressed concern that union leadership wants to delay a deal so both the Findlay and Texarkana work force negotiate at the same time.

Previously, union officials have denied that charge from the company. Local 207L President Rod Nelson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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

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