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Automotive

Talks slated by union, Cooper Tire in Findlay

Meeting to be first in nearly 8 weeks

FINDLAY -- Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. officials have agreed to sit down with union negotiators in Findlay next week, a union official said Monday.

The meeting, set for Feb. 6, would be the first for the two sides in nearly eight weeks.

Cooper's 1,050 hourly employees in Findlay have been locked out since late November, when union membership rejected what the company called its last best offer. The last negotiating session was Dec. 13.

Rod Nelson, president of the United Steel Workers Local 207L in Findlay said a federal labor mediator would be present for next week's meeting. An official in the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service's Cleveland office declined to comment.

No one with Cooper Tire, which is based in Findlay, could be reached Monday.

On Thursday, the union at Cooper's Texarkana, Ark., tire plant ratified by a wide margin a new four-year contract.

That pact keeps a two-tier pay system but shortens the time for new hires to qualify for top pay. It also gives all employees raises in each contract year and maintains the pension plan.

"This is probably the best contract we've had in several years," said David Beard, a spokesman with the Texarkana local.

Mr. Nelson said his take-away from that deal was positive for Findlay's workers.

"The company worked with them, took some things off the table that were problems for us," he said. "Hopefully they'll come back up here with the same type of attitude and work with us, and try to work through our differences and get us a contract and get our people back to work."

In Findlay on Friday, Gov. John Kasich said there was little he could do, but he was hopeful the dispute would be settled soon. Mr. Kasich did not give a direct answer to whether he was concerned that the dispute could lead to the plant being closed, although he did say labor disputes can force company executives to examine their entire operation.

"You get a lot of labor unrest and people think a second time about what they want to do. It's just the way CEOs and boards of directors work. They sit down and say, 'is this the right place for us?' We don't want them really thinking that way, so the quicker we get this settled, the better off we are," he said.

Mr. Nelson said Monday the union has been given no indication Cooper is considering ending production in Findlay.

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

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