AKRON—Goodyear's $2.5 billion deal to purchase Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. has the potential to impact thousands of union workers across both companies.
Right now, there are no clear answers.
The USW international office in Pittsburgh said it has been in contact with both Goodyear and Cooper, and that "union voices will be heard throughout the process."
"Our contracts with Cooper and Goodyear provide security for our jobs, earnings and benefits with protections specifically addressing successorship in case of a change in owners," the USW said in a Feb. 23 email to Rubber & Plastics News. "We look forward to facing the challenges ahead and continuing the tradition of quality tire building in all of our communities."
Union presidents from two of the seven affected union facilities—four Goodyear tire plants, two Cooper Tire tire plants and one Cooper Tire tire component plant in the U.S. are unionized—said they are both optimistic and concerned about the sale.
Jody Juarez, president of United Steelworkers Local 307L in Topeka, Kan., said immediate reaction from the 1,450 union members at the Goodyear plant there has been minimal.
"There has been absolutely no reaction," Juarez said. "Once the deal goes through and gets completely finalized, I think there will be more reaction. But it was a surprise to us."
About a year ago, Juarez said, a rumor was floated that Goodyear was looking to buy Cooper Tire. Juarez said he inquired with corporate about it, and was told that no, there was no such deal in the works.
"They said, 'nope, nope, nope' that's not the case," he said. "But I have to think that this was something that was in the works.
"One member said he should have listened to the rumor at the time and bought stock in Cooper Tire."
Goodyear's Topeka plant manufactures OTR, earth mover, truck and bus, and humvee tires.
According to Terry Brewington, president of USW Local 959L in Fayetteville, N.C., union members at that Goodyear plant are optimistic about the purchase, since both Goodyear and Cooper Tire stocks increased following news of the sale.
But there are concerns as well.
"There are concerns about the borrowing of money aspect," Brewington said. "Following the acquisition of Sumitomo and Dunlop, we failed big time. We saw the Gadsden, Ala., plant close. The USW guys in Fayetteville are in a wait-and-see mode right now."
USW Local 959L has about 2,000 members and the Fayetteville plant manufactures passenger and light truck tires, similar to what the Cooper Tire plants produce.
But there is no cause for concern over this redundancy, Brewington said.
"We are not concerned about the different brand names here," he said. "We are much more concerned about other foreign tires coming into the country. That's the concern more than anything else right now," he said.
The single, overarching union contract for Goodyear's three "master plants" in Akron (USW Local 2L, about 260 members), Topeka and Danville, Va. (USW Local 831L, about 1,900 members), expires in July 2022, while the tire maker's Fayetteville plant operates under a "follow me" contract, which also expires in July 2022. The Fayetteville contract is a remnant of the Kelly-Springfield legacy, Juarez said, after Goodyear purchased the facility decades ago from Kelly Tires.
The Cooper Tire-USW union contract in Texarkana, Ark., expires in January 2023 and the union contract in Findlay expires in February 2024, according to the USW. Texarkana has about 1,500 union members and Findlay has about 700 USW members.
USW Local 556L represents about 50 people at a Cooper Tire tire component plant in Clarksdale, Miss.
Representatives from two Cooper Tire unions—USW Local 207L in Findlay and USW Local 752L in Texarkana—could not immediately be reached for comment.
Goodyear said in a Feb. 22 release detailing the planned acquisition that the purchase is intended to strengthen its leadership position globally; offer a more comprehensive offering of tire products; and "provide significant, immediate and long-term financial benefits."
Company officials said that when looking at the combinations pre-pandemic, based on 2019 numbers, the combined firm posted sales of $17.5 billion with operating income of about $1 billion.
Founded in 1914, Cooper Tire is the fifth-largest tire manufacturer in North America by revenue with approximately 10,000 employees in 15 countries. The company's brands include Cooper, Mastercraft, Roadmaster and Mickey Thompson.
The firms expect the deal to be completed in this year's second half, if all needed regulatory approvals are procured, along with a favorable vote by Cooper Tire shareholders.