Titan International Inc. has laid off 50 workers at its Freeport agricultural tire plant, making 71 total layoffs at the site since the end of last month.
The firm also announced it signed a new five-year agreement to supply Deere & Co. with construction and forestry tires.
Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan CEO and chairman of the Quincy, Ill.-based manufacturer, confirmed Aug. 22 the cutbacks at the plant, which the company bought from Goodyear at the end of 2005. The United Steelworkers union, which represents the 700-plus hourly workers in Freeport, has said the layoffs are tied to an Aug. 1 reduction in Goodyear's purchase of all-terrain vehicle tires and mixed rubber stock at the factory.
In July, the USW was notified Goodyear would reduce the amount of product it would buy, and Titan told the union that probably would cause layoffs. By the end of the month, 21 Freeport workers volunteered to leave their positions, and on Aug. 22, 50 more were furloughed.
The labor contract between Titan and the USW-signed in December prior to Titan's purchase of the plant-stipulates that for the first two years there would be no layoffs, and over the five-year term no more than a 10-percent job reduction. An exception to the language is if Goodyear stopped purchasing the rubber stock in Freeport.
The layoffs can be made at Titan's discretion, Taylor said.
The factory needs about 500 hourly people to make the same amount of product it is now, he said. However, Titan has said it has plans to expand the operations in Freeport, especially with the addition of capacity from the company's recent purchase of the former Continental Tire North America Inc. plant in Bryan, Ohio.
Taylor said previously that some specialty tire brands could be manufactured in different facilities from where they have been traditionally. He said he believes sales will rise in Freeport, and there is a possibility laid-off workers could be called back.
The Deere agreement came after the company's senior management requested Titan help them meet tire demand and overcome shortage challenges in the wake of the Bryan plant acquisition, which closed July 31. The supply agreement is for tires only; Titan already supplies wheels for Deere equipment, Taylor said.
Titan is guaranteed a certain percentage of tire volume for Deere, but Taylor didn't reveal the figure or speculate what the number might be over a five-year period.
"It's a good deal for us and ensures no shortages for Deere," said Taylor. General, Continental and Titan brands will be supplied to Deere.
Titan has invested in the world's largest rim line to produce new single-piece wheels to replace current multipiece wheels. This innovation will allow for the development of enhanced tires for the OTR market, the company said.
"Agriculture and off-highway wheel and tire products are Titan's core business," said Taylor. "We look forward to working with other original equipment manufacturers to find solutions to their supply challenges. Titan plans to expand our current OTR production in the next 12 months to meet growing needs."