Titan files no contest with OSHA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Titan Tire of Natchez has filed a &uot;no contest&uot; to a citation issued last month by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, an OSHA official said Tuesday. After a month-long probe, OSHA investigators found a Oct. 4 Banbury machine explosion that severely burned two workers was caused by dust that ignited when it came in contact with electrical equipment, said Director Clyde Payne of OSHA’s Jackson office.

As a result, the agency on Dec. 15 issued a citation to Titan because the Natchez plant had electrical equipment and wiring that was not approved for that location, Payne said.

&uot;Electrical (equipment) and lighting fixtures were in a location subject to potential dust,&uot; he said.

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That violation carries with it a $2,125 fine but, since Titan filed no contest, the OSHA commission must first hold a hearing in the case. So far, a date has not been set for that hearing, Payne said.

OSHA is still investigating other complaints against the plant, but Payne would not comment since the probe is ongoing. On Oct. 22, OSHA inspectors were barred from entering the plant to investigate those complaints.

The inspectors did not have a warrant to search the property, so barring their entry was not against the law. Payne would not say whether the agency has sought or intends to seek a warrant.

Meanwhile, there has been no progress in other legal matters involving Titan and United Steelworkers of America Local 303L, which has been on strike from Titan’s Natchez plant for about 16 months. On Jan. 29, 1999, the union filed documents with the NLRB charging that Titan had violated the National Labor Relations Act. It charged that Titan promised workers more benefits if they resigned from the union, asked prospective workers if they would cross a picket line, did not consider union members for employment and made applicants attend training without notifying the union.

But in October, Rodney Johnson of the NLRB’s New Orleans office said the agency had to investigate further to determine whether the charges have merit. And on Tuesday, Johnson said that investigation is not yet complete. &uot;We haven’t made a final determination yet,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;The bankruptcy and a lot of legal issues involved make it a complicated situation.&uot;

Condere Corp., former owner of the Natchez plant, went bankrupt in May 1997 and sold its assets to Titan Tire in September 1998.

And as of Tuesday, no date had been set in Adams County Chancery Court to hear Titan’s suit for an injunction against striking Local 303L&160;members. The request was filed after union members broke through the plant’s gate after a Sept. 11 rally marking the first year of Local 303L’s strike against the plant.

On Oct. 25, union members and a photographer working for the union, were found not guilty of trespassing.

In the suit Titan asks the court to bar union members from trespassing at the plant, picketing or assembling within 10 yards of plant entrances or having more than two people gather outside the plant.

It also asks that the union be barred from injuring or using unlawful or violent means to threaten Titan workers, contractors, suppliers or customers.