CHARLOTTE, N.C.-Continental Tire North America Inc. told the United Steelworkers layoffs at the firm´s Charlotte tire plant can be reduced or avoided if negotiators find a way to chop $32 million in annual manufacturing costs at the factory.
During talks between Conti and the union Feb. 15-16, the company said it expected USW Local 850 to make a counterproposal to its earlier plans to make the cuts. But when it didn´t receive such a proposal, Conti said it made a new offer it claims achieves the same reduction in manufacturing costs with less impact on current employees and retirees.
The new proposal includes wage cuts of 15 percent, rather than $3-an-hour reductions across the board, according to a Conti spokesman. He said it is more equitable to newer workers who don´t make as much as more senior employees.
He said the tire maker also would put $1 million a year during the life of the contract into a fund to help defray some of the cost impact on retirees as a result of the new medical plan.
Previously, Conti had said it would save the money by reducing its work force by 510 hourly and salaried employees. About 240 hourly workers would be laid off around March 15 and 270 hourly and salaried positions eliminated by June 30, according to Rick Ledsinger, Conti vice president of human resources and chief negotiator.
While still sticking to its $32 million figure, during the Feb. 15-16 talks Conti told the union the layoffs could be avoided. "We want to work together with the union leadership to reach an agreement that reduces manufacturing costs so that we can keep the Charlotte plant running, but it´s a two-way street," Ledsinger said in a statement. "It is time for the union to get serious about preserving jobs in Charlotte."
The firm gave the union time to study the proposal over the weekend. Bargaining was to resume Feb. 20-21.
Local 850 President Mark Cieslikowski said the company was more creative in its method of getting $32 million in costs out of the plant. "It´s still concessionary and it´s still taking quite a lot out of the Charlotte plant," he said. "There´s nothing pretty about it."
In talks Feb. 2-3, the USW did make a presentation that it said slashed $16 million in overall costs at the facility.
That plan calls for cuts in health care and pension benefits along with productivity improvements. In return, "we wanted job security and equality of sacrifice," sharing the burden of reductions with salaried personnel, he said.
Ledsinger claimed the union´s proposal actually would result in tangible cost savings of about $1.7 million, not $16 million. The production improvements section of the plan "offers no tangible savings that we could see," he said.
He claimed the Charlotte plant has the highest operating cost of any Conti facility worldwide.
Cieslikowski said the union still questions the need for $32 million in annual cuts at the plant. That would make Charlotte one of the cheapest facilities in the Conti network. "Then Conti would go somewhere else," he said, "and play one plant against another, and one country against another."
Union members also would like to see Conti address its overall business plan to boost its presence in the U.S. market.
Local 850 officials, Cieslikowski said, will study the new offer closely, noting they have tough decisions to make.
"We´ll do our best to get to some resolution to this. But the bottom line is, if we can´t, we can´t," he said.