(From the March 5, 2012, issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—The United Steelworkers members at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, took the prudent approach in ratifying a five-year contract to end a three-month lockout.
It was clear from the start this isn't the same Cooper that for many years was an industry leader in enjoying good relations with its unionized employees. Yes, management and labor sometimes butted heads, but the two sides normally agreed to a contract before inflicting too much damage.
That was not the case in this set of negotiations. When the roughly 1,000 members of USW Local 207L in Findlay rejected the initial tentative agreement just before Thanksgiving, the company wasted no time in shutting down the plant and putting the workers out on the streets. Before long, Cooper put out word that it would produce tires at its flagship plant using a temporary work force.
It became clear just how much Cooper was willing to spend on the effort when the firm released its financial results the last week of February. It revealed its cost could top $40 million, including $11 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 and as much as $30 million in this year's first quarter.
When a company is willing to back up its resolve with that much cash, it really doesn't give the union members much choice. The Findlay workers lost whatever leverage they might have had when their USW brethren at Cooper's plant in Texarkana, Ark., overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year pact in late January. Having two facilities shut down or at reduced production may have changed Cooper's game plan, but with the Findlay workers isolated, the tire company could keep on its course.
For its part, the USW will continue its battle to have the National Labor Relations Board charge Cooper with unfair labor practices. It's a fight that may bring the union members some compensation, but such cases can take months or years to litigate.
By settling now, the workers will keep their jobs at a time of high unemployment—a situation its members and leadership understood is its best course for now.