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Published: Friday, 1/10/2003

Venezuelan strike affects Dana, O-I plants


Gas pumps aren't the only place in northwest Ohio experiencing fallout from the Venezuelan political crisis.

Auto parts maker Dana Corp. and bottle manufacturer Owens-Illinois, Inc., the two largest firms with Toledo headquarters, have significant operations in the Latin American nation of 24 million.

O-I glass factories, which produce bottles for brewers, food manufacturers, and others, have been shuttered since the Dec. 2 start of a general strike by labor unions and business interests trying to oust leftist President Hugo Chavez.

“Conditions haven't changed to a point where we can operate safely,” Luis Gomez, an O-I glass executive in Venezuela, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The firm operates glass plants in the cities of La Victoria, Valencia, and Valera, according to company reports. The status of an O-I plastics plant, also in the northwestern coastal city of Valencia, was unknown.

Dana spokesman Gary Corrigan couldn't be reached for comment about the status of that firm's Venezuelan plants and offices.

But almost all manufacturing in the nation has been brought to a standstill by the strike, said Vladimir Chelminski, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in the capital of Caracas.

Despite reports that the five-week strike is losing momentum, Mr. Chelminski said events this week have breathed new life into the movement to oust Mr. Chavez, who is blamed for the nation's economic problems.

Union leaders representing bus drivers, who up to now have sided with Mr. Chavez and his mostly impoverished supporters, have called on their members to walk off the job Monday, Mr. Chelminski said. It is unclear how many will strike.

Many small shops remain open and a few factories have reopened this year, but others have had trouble getting parts, the chamber executive said.

Officials at O-I headquarters in Toledo refused for two weeks to talk about the impact of the political crisis on Venezuelan operations.

Wall Street Analyst Stewart Scharf, of Standard & Poor's, said the impact of the shut-down on O-I is probably small because just 10 percent of the firm's $5.8 billion in annual come from South America. The firm's Venezuelan plants mostly supply South American customers.

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