FREEPORT, Ill. — Tire and wheel maker Titan International Inc. may need to make some production changes at its Freeport farm tire plant to make it more profitable, but the company hasn´t devised any firm plans yet to do so.
However, Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan´s chairman and CEO, said on Jan. 23 he will lay off employees and move some of the farm tire production to one of the firm´s two other plants unless the workers and company can settle differences and work together better to help make money at the former Goodyear site.
Since Titan bought Goodyear´s unprofitable agricultural tire business and the plant in December 2005, it has continued to operate in the red, but Taylor said production has been improving.
"The work force has been great in Freeport, and things are getting better," he said.
Local news reports have said that Titan is seeking staffing and wage reductions, and Taylor agreed he will do what´s necessary to run a profitable facility in Freeport. But anything that is done will be under the contract agreed to by the company and the United Steelworkers following Titan´s purchase of the plant, he said.
"We´re not renegotiating anything," Taylor said. "We don´t need to. We have a contract, and we´ll follow that." The pact between Titan and the USW runs through Nov. 19, 2010.
Steve Vanderheyden, president of USW Local 745, said there have been no discussions of layoffs or work being moved at the plant, and Titan has been compliant with job security and layoff protection language in the contract. There are 555 employees in the bargaining unit working at the factory, down from 742 when Titan acquired the facility, Vanderheyden said.
Taylor said he can take that number down to 475 workers and be within the guidelines of the contract. The Freeport plant cannot be shut down during the life of the current deal, but Taylor said he has no intention to close the facility after the contract expires.
Not only production but cooperation at the plant needs to improve, he said. There have been problems at the Freeport factory with grievances — specifically that many of them haven´t been settled and had reached the arbitration stage, costing the facility time and money, Taylor said.
For example, he said one employee showed up late for work and wanted to be paid for the missed time because the delay was "unavoidable." Another worker was injured working a different job and wanted Titan to pay his workers compensation claim, then pay the company back after he received his settlement, Taylor said.
"It´s pretty simple: we run the factory," he said. "The local union is not in charge, and that´s a fact. We´re not interested in fighting, but if they want to fight instead of make tires, we have other factories where we can transition work."
Titan runs a farm tire plant in Des Moines, Iowa, and an off-the-road tire facility in Bryan, Ohio. Titan acquired the Bryan operation from Continental Tire North America Inc. in July 2006 and since then has made changes in production and integrated mix at the facilities to improve efficiency.
Taylor said that even if Titan does move some farm tire manufacturing out of Freeport, small OTR tire production would remain there.
Vanderheyden said the union and workers are working with the local plant management to do what is necessary to make the operation profitable. He also said he´d rather not try to solve any problems at the Freeport plant through the media.
Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of the union´s Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, said further discussion of the Freeport situation should take place between negotiators and management.