By William Schertz, Tire Business staff
USW workers, their families and members of the Findlay, Ohio, community protest at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.Â´s Findlay plant.
(United Steelworkers photo by Steven Dietz)
Findlay, Ohio -- As the calendar gets ready to roll over to 2012, the lockout at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Findlay tyre plant enters its sixth week, with contract negotiations between the company and United Steelworkers (USW) Local 207L remaining at a standstill.
Bargaining between the two parties was on hold for the last week of December but is expected to start up again the first week of January. Representatives from both sides acknowledged the talks haven't resulted in much progress.
Meanwhile, officials at Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services ruled Dec. 21 that the 1,000-plus unionised employees who were locked out of the plant Nov. 28 are eligible for unemployment benefits and can apply immediately. Cooper Tire has 21 days to appeal the decision.
Following the lockout, Cooper hired dozens of temporary workers to fill in for its Findlay employees in hopes of maintaining production there and avoiding potential work stoppages at its Texarkana, Ark., plant, where the current labor pact is set to expire Jan. 20. Members of USW Local 752L in Texarkana have voted to give their executive board authority to declare a strike should the need arise, though President David Boone Sr. told Tire Business that would be a last resort.
A spokeswoman for Cooper said initial discussions with Texarkana union representatives began Dec. 7, and the company is hopeful that â€œwith the concerted effort of both partiesâ€ it will reach an agreement before the deadline.
â€œWe are also hopeful that we can complete these negotiations with as few distractions as possible to come to a conclusion that is good for our Texarkana employees, for Cooper and good for Texarkana,â€ she said.
Cooper's recent decisions have drawn ire from several directions, including members of the Findlay community, descendants of the company's founders, tyre dealerships and other USW chapters.
The National Consumers League (NCL) chimed in with a letter addressed to Cooper President and CEO Roy Armes and Chris Ostrander, president of Cooper's North American Tire Operations, saying it is â€œtroubled about the bargaining strategy Cooper has reportedly employed to date.â€ The USW posted the letter in its entirety on its website, www.uswlocal207L.org.
â€œIn the midst of a global recession, these tactics could destabilise the loyal Cooper workers, their communities and hamper the economic recovery,â€ the NCL said. â€œWe firmly believe that Cooper, which frequently touts its corporate social responsibility and support for the community, has an ethical obligation to negotiate a contract that fairly reflects the company's financial successes and ends its lockout.
In addition, the descendants of the founders of Cooper Tire sent a letter of their own to the tyre maker, making it known they are â€œdeeply disturbedâ€ by the company's actions.
Lingel Winters and Janet Clinger-whose grandfather Claude Hart and great-uncle John Schaefer founded Cooper in 1915 when they merged their small tyre manufacturing company with I.J. Cooper Rubber Co.-criticised the company's decision in a Dec. 9 letter addressed to Armes.
â€œClaude Hart adhered to the highest standards for himself and the company,â€ the letter reads. â€œHe believed that the company had a responsibility for the well-being of not only the shareholders, but the workers and the community.â€
The Cooper spokeswoman said if the union had accepted the tyre maker's offer to extend the recently expired contract by a year, the lockout would have been unnecessary. â€œThe employees are not working today because their negotiating team did not allow them the opportunity to do so while we continued to hammer out an agreement,â€ she said.
In the letter, Winters and Ms. Clinger noted that the 606-305 margin by which Cooper's proposed contract was rejected indicated â€œdeep and widespread dissatisfaction, which should concern all of us.
â€œInstead, Cooper Tire has retaliated by locking out the employees and hiring scab workers just before Christmas,â€ they said. â€œThese are not the standards of your founder, Claude Hart. He, like us, would be deeply offended by this callous action. Locking out employees who helped the company during hard times and hiring scab workers to replace them subverts the purpose of collective bargaining, is contrary to good faith practices and is un-American at the core....â€
The pair urged Cooper to return to the bargaining table and engage in good faith negotiations with the union. Ms. Clinger also is a company shareholder.
No sessions have been scheduled as of yet, Cooper's spokeswoman said, but the company is prepared to resume negotiations.
From Tire Business Rubber & Plastics News Automotive News (A Crain publication)