Goodyear's tire factory in Gadsden, Ala., has been a part of the company's manufacturing footprint for more than 90 years, and the facility has had more than its share of ups and downs. It's been slated for shutdown on more than one occasion, only to be saved from the brink.
So word that about 740 members of United Steelworkers Local 12 have accepted buyouts from Goodyear certainly will start talk about the long-term viability of the facility. It leaves a little more than 600 total employees in Gadsden, roughly a thousand less than a few years back.
Goodyear opened the factory in 1929 as the linchpin of then-Goodyear President P.W. Litchfield's southern strategy. Litchfield was known for his anti-union beliefs, and all applicants had to have a sponsor who would vouch they would not join a union.
In 1936, a year after the United Rubber Workers was formed, the URW's first president was beaten severely during a labor rally in Gadsden. It wasn't until August 1943 that the URW organized the plant and formed Local 12, largely because the federal government pressured Goodyear to allow the plant to become unionized in order to receive orders to supply the war effort.
The Gadsden plant almost was closed in 1986 following Sir James Goldsmith's raid on Goodyear. The Akron-based tire maker was going to shutter Gadsden or its factory in Cumberland, Md.
Local 12 and Goodyear officials met, and the Gadsden workers approved about $30 million in concessions. So Gadsden was saved and Cumberland shut down.
In 1999, Goodyear announced it would cease tire production in Gadsden, leaving just a rubber mixing unit and a few hundred jobs. But fate was kind on the operation once again as there was a higher than expected demand for tires.
Local 12 President Mickey Williams—whose son, Mickey Jr., is the current local president—wrote to the head of Goodyear's North American tire business. He told him how much the plant meant to him and made a proposal to keep Gadsden open. Negotiations ensued, a more flexible working agreement was approved and the plant was saved once again.
This time around, workers say the culprit is NAFTA, with Goodyear shifting production to its new plant in Mexico. Again, the future doesn't look bright for the Gadsden employees. But I've learned over the years never to count them out.