|Steelworkers picketing Cooper Tire plant in Findlay, Ohio, Dec. 5 wave to honking supporters as they drive by plant. Hundreds joined human chain circling the plant three days earlier.|
Cooper Tire locked out 1,050 workers after they rejected the companys last, best contract proposal Nov. 27 by a margin of 606 to 305.
All I want is a fair contract, David Morin, a union steward who has worked at the plant for five years, told the Militant. Morin was accompanied by his wife and two young daughters.
The three-year contract proposal would establish a new five-tier job classification and wage scale and new productivity standards that must be met to retain any particular job. Those hired more than two years ago would retain their wages until they changed or are forced into another job, at which time they would make the new rate regardless of seniority or past wages.
The contract would also replace pension benefits with a 401(k) plan for those hired in the last two years; reduce vacation time, particularly for new hires; and pay all new hires in production $13 for up to two years, regardless of their job. To sell the concessions, the company is including a bonus program for reaching its profit targets beginning in 2013 and a signing bonus of $2,500.
They shut down the plant for Thanksgiving and when we came on Monday there were 20 or so guards in the parking lot, Don McLane, a tire builder at Cooper for 20 years, explained on the picket line. They said the holiday has been extended. By 4 p.m. the company said we were locked out.
They are trying to take too much at one time, said Terry Sheridan, member of USW Local 207L and a snow slitter operator at the plant for 36 years.
Cooper Tire, headquartered here, is the fourth largest tire producer in the U.S., with plants in 10 countries.
Arkansas plant authorizes strike
At the Cooper Tire plant in Texarkana, Ark., members of USW Local 752L voted Oct. 14 to authorize a strike. Their contract expires Jan. 17, 2012.
Many Local 207L members know about the lockout by American Crystal Sugar of 1,300 workers in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa because that fight and their own struggle were featured on the Dec. 1 broadcast of MSNBC TVs The Ed Show, anchored by Ed Schultz.
We want to be rewarded for bringing this company back to profitability, USW Local 207L President Rod Nelson said on The Ed Show via satellite from the union hall. Three years ago, our company was in dire straits. They lost $219 million . We offered the company $30 million in concessions.
On Dec. 6 Cooper Tire escalated its attack on the union by bringing in 12 vanloads of temporary replacement workers in two shifts, roughly 100-150 total scabs, according to Robert Greer, coordinator for the union locals Rapid Response and an electrician at the plant for 22 years.
The company plans to be back to full production within 30 days, Chris Ostrander, president of Coopers North American operations, told the Toledo Blade. Cooper Tire has not returned calls from the Militant.
We are getting a lot of support from the community, said Julie Barrett, a member of Local 207L and Women of Steel. On the first day of the lockout firefighters drove fire trucks by the plant and blasted their sirens and brought chili to the union hall. She said the local was very active in the campaign that recently defeated antilabor legislation in Ohio attacking public workers.
Many workers said it was a problem that new hires generally make lower wages. There are people out here who are ready to retire in weeks who are standing with me and I havent been here six months, said Joe Carr, 25. He joined the human chain with his father Mark Carr, who started working at the plant less than a year ago. Mark makes $13 as a tow truck driver in the warehouse, and Joe up to $17 with production bonuses.
Last time we gave up concessions. It is unacceptable to ask for this again, said Kevin Jenkins, who has worked in the plant for 12 years.
Messages and contributions can be sent to USW Local 207L, 1130 Summit St., Findlay, Ohio, 45840. Phone: (419) 422-4224. Donations to help provide Christmas presents to union members children should be earmarked Christmas Fund.
Josefina Otero contributed to this article.
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