FINDLAY, Ohio (Jan. 12, 2012)—The United Steelworkers and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. not only haven't settled their labor dispute at the firm's Findlay tire plant, the sides can't even agree if they had planned to meet.
According to a USW Local 207L representative, Cooper cancelled a bargaining session scheduled for Jan. 12 without providing a reason for the cancellation.
A Cooper spokeswoman, however, said no such session had ever been scheduled. She claims Cooper made an offer for workers at the Findlay plant—who have been locked out since Nov. 28—to return to work after Christmas by way of a contact extension, but the offer went unanswered.
Separately, discussions between Cooper and the USW Local 752L representing workers at the tire maker's Texarkana, Ark., plant, where the current labor contract expires Jan. 20, are ongoing. Union representatives could not be reached for comment on the progress of these negotiations by Tire Business' press time.
The Findlay workers have gained support from many directions, including Milorad Panovic, president of Nezavisnost, the union representing workers at a tire plant in Krusevac, Serbia, that Cooper has made plans to purchase. In letter sent to Cooper last month, Panovic asked the company to put an end to the lockout at its Findlay plant and support its workers there.
A delegation of locked-out Findlay employees and an international union representative met last week with union leaders at the radial car and light truck tire plant, which Cooper offered in December to buy for approximately $17.4 million. The plant was previously operated by Serbia's Trayal Corp.
Cooper said it expects the deal for the plant with Serbian authorities to close in the first quarter, subject to regulatory approvals, confirmatory due diligence and other conditions.
USW International President Leo Gerard said international solidarity among union members is especially important in the case of disputes with multinational employers, as a direct link for sharing information can help workers from different areas of the globe.
“The only answer to global corporate greed is global union solidarity,” he said. “Cooper Tire management needs to understand our commitment to justice here.”
As for the Serbian plant, Cooper plans to invest about $67 million in the 35-year-old plant to upgrade it and expand annual capacity to 3 million units within three years. Employment there will grow to 600-700 workers from 400.
The operation, to be renamed Cooper Tire Serbia, will complement Cooper's factory in Melksham, England. Cooper called it a “logical next step in the high quality, cost-effective manufacturing footprint underpinning Cooper's strategy of profitable top-line growth.”