Steelworkers Union: Cooper Locked Us Out After We Boosted Company Profits

Mike Elk

On Monday, 1,050 workers at a Cooper Tire plant in Findlay, Ohio — members of United Steelworkers Local 207L — were unexpectedly locked out of their jobs.

Despite making healthy profits last year and increasing its CEO pay for the third year in a row, Cooper Tire is asking its workers to take drastic pay cuts and increase their healthcare costs. It also wants to eliminate pension plans for new hires. In addition to these proposals, the union charges that Cooper has engaged in illegal bargaining by not fully presenting vital information about bargaining to the workers.

They want to give a us a new wage structure, but they won’t tell us what the pay scale of that structure will be. They won’t tell us what the minimum standards are to even get a bonus or for a worker to keep his classification in his job,” says USW District 1 Sub-director Patrick Gallagher. Our opinion is that they have engaged in unfair bargaining, and that this is an illegal lockout.”

If the National Labor Relation Board rules that the lockout was illegal, Cooper Tires would be responsible for paying the locked-out workers back wages during the time they were locked out.

The union offered to continue working on a 30-day extension of its contract, which could be renewed by mutual agreement. The company, however, wanted the union to agree to a one-year extension of the contract.

Meanwhile, another USW contract will expire at Cooper Tire’s Texarkana, Ark., plant employing about 400 workers in mid-January. Company officials claim the union was trying to tie the two contracts together by agreeing to work on only a 30-day contract extension, but Gallagher denies they are trying to coordinate the two contracts. Cooper Tire said in a statement: The company advanced several options to avoid the contract overlap that is looming, including a last, best, and final proposal for a new long-term contract and an offer to extend the recently expired contract for an additional year with no change in terms.”

It appears that Cooper Tire is digging in for a potentially long lockout, as the company has announced it is going to run the plant on a temporary workforce. According to Gallagher, Cooper has hired Strom Engineering and Strom Strategic Consulting of Minnetonka, Minn., a labor contingency” firm, and is in the process of searching for nonunion replacement workers.

USW is particularly bitter about the lockout, since in 2009 it filed an International Trade Commission Section 421 Trade Case against China for illegally dumping tires at below market prices. Cooper didn’t support the trade complaint since it operates tire export businesses in China as well and did not want to upset the Chinese government. However as a result of the case, the Obama Administration placed tariffs on tires, leading to an increase in business for U.S. tire manufacturers like Cooper Tire, which posted $17.3 million in profits in the third quarter.

They benefited from the 421… We helped with them with profitability and they wanted to give us an inferior and substandard contract,” says Gallagher. We went out there in our last contract and made concessions … and made them profitable. Now things are turned around, and they are so profitable that they can give bonuses and raises to management and supervisory workers, but they want to give us a substandard contract and not share that with us.”

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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