When is a plant closing really not a plant closing? Apparently when it's the Goodyear factory in Gadsden, Ala. Earlier this year, Goodyear decided to quit producing tires in Gadsden after 70 years. The firm would, however, maintain a small presence at the plant by keeping a mixing operation in place employing roughly 150-200 people, meaning about 90 percent of United Steelworkers of America Local 12 would lose their jobs.
That's where the tricky part comes in. Under the master contract in place, a plant closure brings certain benefits and the company is compelled to negotiate a closure agreement with the union. One important clause brings immediate pension rights for workers with between 25 and 30 years of service, which may cover 500 or more Gadsden employees. But Goodyear says because the mixing operation remains, the plant-closure language doesn't apply.
Gadsden workers demonstrated at Goodyear's annual meeting April 12, and asked Chairman Samir G. Gibara during the session why he doesn't ``do the right thing'' and treat Gadsden as a plant closing situation. He rightly said companies no longer can promise lifelong employment to workers, and claimed the company had offered a compensation package well ``beyond its contractual obligation'' in Gadsden.
Goodyear officials—with an eye on the bottom line—said they have an idea how much liability they would face if Gadsden is designated a ``plant closure,'' but won't release a figure. The union said Goodyear's liability would run as high as $84 million.
Gibara says the company treats its employees humanely. If he means that, then he will call a plant closure a plant closure and sit down and reach an agreement befitting the concessions Gadsden workers made over the years.