TEXARKANA, Ark.—By a margin of nearly eight to one, workers at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Texarkana plant have ratified a four-year labor contract offering wage increases and continued retirement, medical and life insurance benefits.
However, it's unclear if anything similar to the Texarkana contract will be on the table when Cooper and the United Steelworkers resume negotiations at Cooper's Findlay, Ohio, plant Feb. 6, with a federal mediator on hand.
Texarkana workers, all members of USW Local 752L, approved the new contract by a vote of 1,006 to 141 Jan. 26, six days after Cooper and USW representatives reached a tentative agreement on the pact.
According to various sources, the Texarkana agreement gives one-time annual lump sums to employees hired before Jan. 1, 2009. The lump sums are $1,200 to be paid on Jan. 20, 2012, and Jan. 20, 2013, and $1,000 to be paid on Jan. 20, 2014, and Jan. 20, 2015. All payments will be made within 14 days of the anniversary date.
Employees hired after Jan. 1, 2009, will receive a lump-sum payment of $1,200 within 14 days of Jan. 20, 2012, with a 20-cents-per-hour wage increase within 14 days of the same date in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The wage increase will be noted at the bottom of the time card.
Workers hired before Feb. 1, 2012, will continue to be eligible to participate in the current defined benefit program, while those hired after that date will be eligible for a defined contribution retirement program not contingent on employee contribution. The current 401(k) program will be discontinued, though employees may continue to participate in the 401(k) without matching funds from the company.
Workers under the age of 62 with 30 years of continuous company service may apply for early retirement/buyout by April 1 of each year. Between 62 and 65, the service must be 10 years; 65 or over, five years. Workers taking a buyout will receive a lump-sum payment of $1,000 for each completed year of service, with partial years of service ineligible.
In addition to the wage and benefit terms of the contract, Cooper said it will make further, undisclosed investments in the 48-year-old Texarkana plant. The facility, which makes passenger and light truck tires, employs about 1,500 total and has a production capacity of 29,607 units daily, according to Cooper.
The contract agreement at Texarkana gave fresh impetus to resume negotiations at Findlay, where 1,040 union workers have been locked out since Nov. 28 after rejecting a contract by a 606-305 vote.
There have been no talks between Cooper and leaders of USW Local 207L since Dec. 13. The union said the company canceled negotiations set for Jan. 12, although the firm denied any were scheduled.
A spokesman for the USW International in Pittsburgh confirmed talks would resume Feb. 6 in the presence of a federal mediator, something he said the union requested a number of times.
In a letter published on the website of the local Findlay newspaper, Cooper denounced as false a rumor that the contract rejected Nov. 28 would have forced Findlay workers to take a 40-percent pay cut. The contract would have preserved the current earnings opportunities for 85 percent of the workers and improved them for the other 15 percent, the company said.
However, the USW International spokesman said that contract left too much undefined.
“I think one problem was that the company wanted to establish a new pay system and performance standards, but said it would work out the details as it went along,” the spokesman said. “It was asking workers to ratify a contract without telling them whether they would receive more or less money.”
A Cooper spokeswoman did not return telephone calls. However, Rod Riddig, vice president of USW Local 207L, dismissed rumors that the company was removing equipment from the Findlay plant.
“If it is, it's just taking out old equipment and having it rebuilt,” he said.