CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Continental Tire North America Inc. is negotiating to sell its off-the-road tire plant in Bryan, Ohio, but the deal may not close for several months.
Separately, the United Steelworkers of America intends to take the company to arbitration over severance bargaining for workers affected by the firm´s suspension of tire production at its Mayfield, Ky., facility. Conti and the union also broke off midcontract reopener talks after the USWA claimed the firm demanded concessions.
In Bryan, Conti is holding "concrete negotiations to sell its production facilities for off-the-road tires in the U.S. together with the corresponding business," according to a Conti spokesman in Germany. General Tire & Rubber Co. opened the Bryan factory in 1966. Today it employs about 300 and has the capacity to make 232 bias agricultural, earthmover/OTR or industrial tires a day.
"The planned sale of the OTR business is in keeping with the company´s strategy of parting from business sectors that do not belong to the core business, do not reach earnings goals on a permanent basis or which cannot achieve a leading market position in the foreseeable future," he said.
The spokesman won´t disclose details about the prospective buyer, but did say it could be "some months" before the deal closes. While the Bryan factory is Conti´s only dedicated OTR plant, the firm has some capacity to make the tires in Malaysia and South Africa.
Conti informed USWA officials about the possible deal for the Bryan plant during the reopener negotiations, telling the union it would acknowledge the successorship agreement in its contract, according to a Steelworkers spokesman. USWA Local 890 represents hourly workers at the Bryan operation.
"It sounded like they had a buyer and had a done deal," the USWA spokesman said. He said the proposed sale isn´t a surprise to the union because Conti had been looking for a buyer for Bryan for some time.
The Steelworkers union said it is filing for arbitration in Mayfield because Conti refuses to treat the situation under the plant-closure language in the contract, according to Terry Beane, president of Local 665 at Mayfield.
Conti suspended tire production at Mayfield Dec. 15 and is using the facility just for mixing and warehouse operations.
The USWA said it believes the matter should be treated as a plant closing because more than 80 percent of hourly workers are being impacted. That would bring added benefits to the union members, including making more workers eligible for pensions and providing health coverage for a longer period.
Severance bargaining between Conti and the union broke off in November. Conti had offered severance payments of $8,000 for all hourly employees with one or more years of service. It also proposed putting $1.5 million into a special transition assistance fund for the benefit of laid-off workers.
No date for an arbitration hearing has been set.
The USWA said the company walked away from reopener discussions after the union refused to accept its demand for concessions. The USWA spokesman said the talks were supposed to discuss items traditionally covered in midterm negotiations, such as bringing wages and pensions up to industry averages.
Conti, however, sought other items, such as increasing retiree medical care costs, he said.
Conti declined to comment on the negotiations. The current contracts expire in 2006 and cover workers at the company´s Charlotte tire plant in addition to USWA members in Bryan and Mayfield.