Getting workers back on the job our first priority, says Cooper
In a statement updating the progress of negotiations over its Findlay, Ohio factory, Cooper Tire & Rubber reports that the United Steelworkers union has rejected its offer to extend the recently expired worker’s contract. An extension of the contract that expired on October 31 would have allowed plant workers who are USW members to get back on the job as early as the weekend of 3-4 December and enable production to continue as usual while Cooper and the Union continue negotiations towards a new long-term contract. While Cooper’s statement did not specify the length of the extension sought, non-profit news magazine In These Times reports that Cooper wants to extend the current agreement by one year.
“Our first priority is to get our employees back on the job so they can continue earning a fair wage and benefits,” said Chris Ostrander, president of Cooper Tire’s North America Operations on 2 December. “We offered to extend the agreement with no change in the existing terms again last night. This offer to get employees back to work was once again declined by the USW.”
In addition to getting USW members back at work, Cooper Tire states an interim extension of the previous contract would have “demonstrated that the USW truly has the people’s best interest in mind rather than the intention to create simultaneous work stoppages at both of Cooper’s Findlay and Texarkana, Arkansas, plants.” The tyre maker says the USW has offered “nothing more than a non-binding promise not to strike or a 30-day extension of the previous agreement.” This 30-day extension appears unacceptable to Cooper Tire as the company fears it would bring the expiry dates for the Findlay and Texarkana labour agreements closer together, something the manufacturer says “puts our company, its customers, and all of our employees at risk.”
“Without quality, cost-competitive products, there are no customers. Without customers, there are no jobs,” commented Ostrander. “It is essential that Cooper becomes more efficient in its existing operations to ensure the long-term viability of Cooper overall. Without being competitive and making a profit, we are unable to reinvest back in the business as we have done at the Findlay plant, where we’ve invested nearly US$40 million and added nearly 150 union jobs since 2007.”
In These Times posits that Cooper is “digging in for a potentially long lockout.” The magazine believes this to be the case as it says the company announced it will run the plant on a temporary workforce. A 2 December article in the publication reports USW District 1 Sub-director Patrick Gallagher as saying Cooper has hired Strom Engineering and Strom Strategic Consulting of Minnetonka, Minnesota, a labour dispute consultancy, and is in the process of searching for non-union replacement workers.
Fox Toledo News reported that locked-out workers and their supporters protested at the Findlay site on 2 December by forming a human chain around the factory.