As the new year began, members of the United Steelworkers Local 207L in Findlay, Ohio remained locked out by their employer Cooper Tire and Rubber Company. US Senator Sherrod Brown on January 2 traveled to Findlay to tell Local 207L members who stood shoulder to shoulder in a packed union hall that he supported their fight for a fair contract and urged the fourth largest US tire maker to return to the bargaining table.
“I want these workers to get a chance to go back to work, and I’m hopeful that the company will negotiate,” Sen. Brown told WNWO News. “It’s so important to the community and so important to these workers.”
Local 207L is asking others to show their solidarity by signing their petition urging Cooper to end the lockout.
“Members of USW Local 207L gave up $30 million in pay and other benefits to help Cooper Tire in its time of need,” reads the preface to the petition. “With our help, Cooper made more than $300 million since 2009. The company paid its executives millions of dollars in bonuses, bought a new corporate jet, then refused to bargain with us in good faith. They locked us out and gave replacement workers our jobs.”
Cooper, which sells tires under the brand names of Cooper, Mastercraft, Roadmaster, Dominator, and others, and the local had been negotiating a new contract. The company was seeking to retain and expand concessions it won in 2008 when it suffered losses because of the recession. The union was seeking to regain some of the lost ground because Cooper has returned to profitability.
The company made a final offer on November 23. Union members on November 28 rejected the offer by a vote of 606 to 305 but did not vote to strike; instead, the union called on Cooper to continuing negotiations, but the company locked out the workers and began hiring replacement workers.
Since then, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services has ruled that the locked out workers are eligible to draw unemployment compensation.
To win a fair contract, Local 207L has taken a multi-pronged approach. On the local level, it has maintained a well-disciplined picket line at the plant. In early December, union members and their supporters formed a human chain of solidarity around the plant.
“I couldn’t believe the support we’re getting from businesses,” said Jim Hendricks, a 32-year Cooper employee during a break from the chain of solidarity. “(They’re) bringing us hot food, coffee. People who are just driving along the street have stopped to bring us coffee.”
The local also set up a Strike and Defense Assistance Committee to help members who need assistance paying their bills during the lockout and has distributed gift cards for as much as $100 that help members meet incidental expenses.
Local 207L is also seeking support from workers across the US and abroad. On December 17, it called for a day of action to support the locked out workers. Support demonstrations were held in places like Pittsburg and Nashville in the US. Abroad, unions in the United Kingdom and Serbia took actions to support the Findlay workers.
The lockout is Cooper’s second attempt to wring concessions from its workers. It was successful in 2008 when the union agreed to a tiered wage rate and cuts to their health care plan. This time around, the company wants to retain the tiered wage rate, eliminate pensions for new hires and health care for retirees, and implement a new incentive pay plan.
The company omitted details of new incentive plan in its final contract proposal, and the union says the new plan could lead to pay cuts. The starting wage for Cooper workers is $13 an hour and there have been no wage increases for three years.
While Cooper seeks more concessions from its workers, it recently announced that it was paying a quarterly dividend, making this the 159th consecutive quarterly dividend paid to investors.
It reported in October an operating profit of $47 million for the third quarter of 2011 and $104 million for the first nine months of 2011. In 2009 and 2010, it reported operating profits of $156 million and $188 million respectively.
“Corporate America just doesn’t care about the working man,” said Local 207L member Chris Jones to WNWO News. “We’re the ones who make the product that makes them their money. You would think that they would want to take care of their people, but evidently, they don’t.”