CHARLOTTE, N.C.-Brian Rich may end up being one of the lucky ones.
He could land squarely on his feet, find a job he enjoys and move on with his life.
Then again, he might not.
It´s what happens to all employees when they get laid off. It´s a crapshoot and you just never know what´s going to happen, Rich said.
A 29-year employee at Continental Tire North America Inc.´s Charlotte tire manufacturing plant and a member of United Steelworkers Local 850, he is among the 481 slated to be laid off in July.
It isn´t easy to take, he said, but at least he and other workers had an idea the hammer someday would fall. Still, they always hoped the company and the union would resolve their issues and workers´ jobs would be saved.
It didn´t happen.
"The mood was pretty subdued at the plant," said Rich, who serves as a quality assurance technician. "Everyone knew it was coming. Your emotions run from, ´I´m glad it´s over´ to ´What am I going to do now?´ And I really don´t know what I´m going to do."
Some workers began to get apprehensive about Continental when the union went on strike in 1998, he said. "It opened a lot of peoples´ eyes about the company. It was bad, but we gained from it-at least until they made their ´last, best and final offer´ before they decided to stop producing tires at the plant. In 1998, they wanted a six-year deal to project costs out that long. And then after two years they wanted to renegotiate the contract. We didn´t, but they started asking for concessions then."
Rich, who is married and the father of two grown daughters, doesn´t have any job prospects but has a possibility or two on the back burner.
"I knew this was coming, but I had to wait and see what the outcome would be," he said. "Back in 1998, when we went out on strike, I took a tax preparation course. I did that then. So, it´s a possibility."
He and another member of Local 850 have been involved in competition barbecuing and catering so they may try to expand their little business, especially on the catering side. "I´m involved in a lot of things," Rich said. "But none of them pays well."
Still, he´s among the luckier laid-off workers. His wife Linda works, so he does have something to fall back on. Some married couples work at the Charlotte facility and each will lose their job. That will be a difficult situation, said Rich.
He finds it ironic that "my wife imports things," he said, "and I´m losing my job because of imports."
As a quality assurance technician, he inspects raw materials, fabric and everything else that goes into a tire. He´s also the financial secretary for Local 850. Neither position will open many new doors for him, he figures.
´Too many mistakes´
The Charlotte plant has been a good place to work for the last 29 years, Rich said, "but Continental has not been a good employer." And, for that matter, neither was its predecessor, General Tire, he said.
"General Tire never made money at the plant," which opened in 1967, according to Rich. "Then Continental bought the business and the people changed but the way they do business hasn´t."
The plant "has a history of a strike every six years. General was tight. Continental was tight," and it has had a difficult time trying to figure how to deal with people fairly and make money in the U.S., he said. "We´ve been told there was only one year (Continental Tire North America) made money-in 1998, when they forced us out on strike."
The first big mistake Continental made was to purchase General Tire, Rich said. The second was to sell General Tire´s retail stores. "There are too many mistakes after that to list," he said. "The company has always been a step behind."
Rich didn´t set out to land a job at a tire maker when he graduated from high school. He went to college with the idea that he would become a teacher. He needed money to continue his education and got a job with General Tire. "I started working there and then one thing led to another. I got married, and the kids came along and college was put on the back burner. And here I am."
Will he continue to buy Continental or General tires?
Probably not, Rich said. "But I don´t think Conti really cares."