FINDLAY, Ohio—The lockout at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Findlay tire plant continued into the new year, with contract negotiations between the company and United Steelworkers Local 207L remaining at a standstill.
A Local 207L spokesman said there was to be a bargaining session scheduled for Jan. 12, but the company canceled the meeting.
He said Cooper did not give a reason for the cancellation.
A Cooper spokeswoman, however, said that no negotiations had been scheduled, with the last talks held Dec. 13. She said the company did make an offer for the locked-out workers to return to work right after Christmas via a contract extension, but the union didn't respond to the offer.
Meanwhile, officials at Ohio's Department of Job and Family Services ruled Dec. 21 that the 1,000-plus unionized employees who were locked out of the plant Nov. 28 are eligible for unemployment benefits and can apply immediately. Cooper Tire has 21 days to appeal the decision.
Following the lockout, Cooper hired dozens of temporary workers to fill in for its Findlay employees in hopes of maintaining production there and avoiding potential work stoppages at its Texarkana, Ark., plant, where the current labor pact is set to expire Jan. 20.
Members of USW Local 752L in Texarkana have voted to give their executive board authority to declare a strike should the need arise, although President David Boone Sr. said that would be a last resort.
The Cooper spokeswoman said initial discussions with Texarkana union representatives began Dec. 7, and the company is hopeful that “with the concerted effort of both parties” it will reach an agreement before the deadline.
“We are also hopeful that we can complete these negotiations with as few distractions as possible to come to a conclusion that is good for our Texarkana employees, for Cooper and good for Texarkana,” she said.
Decisions draw flak
Cooper's recent decisions have drawn ire from several directions, including members of the Findlay community, descendants of the company's founders, tire dealerships and other Steelworker locals.
The National Consumers League chimed in with a letter addressed to Roy Armes, Cooper president and CEO, and Chris Ostrander, president of Cooper's North American Tire Operations, saying it is “troubled about the bargaining strategy Cooper has reportedly employed to date.”
The USW posted the letter in its entirety on its website, www.uswlocal207L.org.
“In the midst of a global recession, these tactics could destabilize the loyal Cooper workers, their communities and hamper the economic recovery,” the NCL said.
“We firmly believe that Cooper, which frequently touts its corporate social responsibility and support for the community, has an ethical obligation to negotiate a contract that fairly reflects the company's financial successes and ends its lockout,” the letter said.
In addition, the descendants of the founders of Cooper Tire sent a letter of their own to the tire maker, making it known they are “deeply disturbed” by the company's actions.
Lingel Winters and Janet Clinger—whose grandfather Claude Hart and great-uncle John Schaefer founded Cooper in 1915 when they merged their small tire manufacturing company with I.J. Cooper Rubber Co.—criticized the company's decision in a Dec. 9 letter addressed to Armes. Clinger also is a company shareholder.
“Claude Hart adhered to the highest standards for himself and the company,” the letter reads. “He believed that the company had a responsibility for the well-being of not only the shareholders, but the workers and the community.”
Cooper fires back
The Cooper spokeswoman said if the union had accepted the tire maker's offer to extend the recently expired contract by a year, the lockout would have been unnecessary.
“The employees are not working today because their negotiating team did not allow them the opportunity to do so while we continued to hammer out an agreement,” she said.
In the letter to Cooper, Winters and Clinger noted that the 606-305 margin by which Cooper's proposed contract was rejected indicated “deep and widespread dissatisfaction, which should concern all of us.”
The pair urged Cooper to return to the bargaining table and engage in good faith negotiations with the union.