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Ruling backs Cooper Tire workers


An arbitrator ruled Friday that Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. cannot sell its Findlay headquarters, above, or its Texarkana, Ark., plant to Apollo Tyres of India, until Apollo reaches an agreement with unionized workers. (AP Photo)

FINDLAY — Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. cannot sell its Findlay and Texarkana, Ark., plants until Apollo Tyres of India reaches an agreement with unionized workers, an arbitrator ruled Friday.

Unionized workers at both plants are demanding the companies address how the Apollo buyout of Cooper would affect job security and pensions. Cooper had resisted, which put the dispute in the hands of the arbitrator weeks ago.

"This is a big morale booster for us," Rod Nelson, president of United Steelworkers Local 207L at the Findlay plant, said Friday. "The key here is that the buyer, which is Apollo, will have to enter into an agreement with the union, establishing the terms and conditions of employment, to be effective as of the closing date" of the purchase.

There are about 2,500 union members in Local 207L in Findlay and Local 752L in Texarkana, the United Steelworkers said.

No closing date has been announced for the $2.5 billion sale of Cooper Tire to Apollo. Cooper shareholders are scheduled to vote in a little more than two weeks on whether to approve the purchase.

Cooper Tire said Friday it was disappointed with the arbitrator's ruling.

"We are reviewing our options and will continue discussions with the union on this matter," the company stated. "The Findlay and Texarkana plants continue normal operations."

Though Nelson would not be specific, he indicated unionized workers may be looking for more commitments than just job security and pensions.

"This changes the ballgame quite a bit," he said. He declined to say more.

Nelson last week said unionized workers fear Cooper's debt payments will be so large after the buyout that it will be unable to afford improvements at its plants in the United States.

The concerns and arguments of unionized workers in Findlay and Texarkana swayed arbitrator James Oldham, a law professor at Georgetown University. The company and union agreed to have Oldham arbitrate their dispute.

"The grievances (of the union) in this case are sustained," Oldham stated. "The company is ordered to refrain from selling or transferring the Texarkana and Findlay plants pursuant to the Agreement and Plan of Merger unless and until the union has entered into agreements with the buyer, Apollo Tyres ... prior to the closing recognizing the union as the bargaining agent and establishing the terms and conditions of employment to be effective as of the closing date."

Oldham's decision upheld a union workers' complaint alleging that Cooper disobeyed a labor contract stipulation.

Cooper argued that the stipulation did not apply to the purchase by Apollo Tyres.

The labor pact, agreed to by Cooper and unionized workers in Findlay in February 2012, states:

"The company agrees that it will not sell, convey, assign or otherwise transfer the plant covered by this agreement ... unless the following conditions have been satisfied prior to the closing date of this sale:

"A. The buyer shall have entered into an agreement with the union recognizing it as the bargaining representative for the employees within the existing bargaining unit.

"B. The buyer shall have entered into an agreement with the union establishing the terms and conditions of employment to be effective as of closing date."


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