Titan files racketeering lawsuit against striking Steelworkers

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 30, 2000

AP and staff reports

Titan Tire CEO Morry Taylor said he is &uot;taking the gloves off&uot; in the tire plant’s dispute with striking Steelworkers. Titan International announced Friday it had filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the United Steelworkers of America over strikes at its Titan Tire Corp. plants in Natchez and Des Moines. The lawsuit, filed in Quincy, Ill., where the parent company is based, seeks $240 million in damages.

&uot;We’re not only suing the union under racketeering laws, but we’re suing several individuals as well, including (Local 303L President Leo) ‘T-Bone’ Bradley,&uot; Taylor said.

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&uot;I’m taking the gloves off. … The (union) guys down in Natchez have committed extortion, intimidation and bomb threats. They’re not exempt from the law.&uot;

Referring to himself by the nickname ”The Grizz,” for grizzly bear, he declared: &uot;’The Grizz’ is coming out of the cave now and I’ll guarantee you that when we bite them, we’ll bite them good.”

The lawsuit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, and claims an ongoing pattern of criminal racketeering activities, including bomb threats, extortion and mail fraud.

”Over the last three years, we’ve had the FBI, certain wiretaps, everything else. You had the situation here in Des Moines when the strike started, you had over 100 people file disability for hearing. It was fraudulent,” Taylor said.

Bradley, who had not seen the lawsuit, had little comment until he could review it.

&uot;This is Morry Taylor’s last-ditch effort to smear the union,&uot; Bradley said.

&uot;The union expects to vigorously defend itself,&uot; said USWA attorney David Jury, who had also not read through the entire lawsuit as of late Friday afternoon.

About 670 members of Steelworkers’ Local 164 have been on strike at the plant since May 1998. More than 200 Steelworkers have been on strike in Natchez since September 1998. The National Labor Relations Board issued an unfair labor practices complaint against Titan Tire in September 1998, charging the company with prolonging the strike in Des Moines and said earlier this year it would seek another complaint against Titan in conjunction with the Natchez strike.

Titan International’s lawsuit also names 100 individuals, including Bradley, George Becker, president of the union, and other top union executives.

Taylor said his company waited until now to file the lawsuit because they had been busy training new employees to replace the striking workers.

”We’ve gotten up the production level to where we see where everything is going,” Taylor said. ”Now it’s time to concentrate and go back after the damages and what we’re charging in the federal court.”

Titan plans to hold a press conference on the lawsuit in Jackson at 11 a.m. Monday at the offices of Harris, Geno and Dunbar, 111 E. Capitol St., Suite 290. Copies of the lawsuit will be given out there.

Taylor also says he will be in Natchez Monday afternoon.

John Peno, president of Local 164 in Des Moines, is also named in the lawsuit.

He said he had not seen it, but would fight ”vigorously” against it.

”I welcome the chance to get things out in the open and we’ll find out who the real criminals are in this dispute. I’m very comfortable that the United Steelworkers Local 164 hasn’t done anything illegal,” Peno said.

Peno said the two sides haven’t met since June 1999, but he is willing to return to the bargaining table. He also denied Taylor’s claim that the steelworkers’ goal was to put the company out of business.

”Not true. We don’t gain anything by putting Titan out of business. All we want is a fair share,” he said.

Taylor also mentioned possible legal action stemming from a fire at the plant that killed a truck driver on Nov. 24, 1999. Taylor said a fire truck carrying foam to fight the fire had been held up by striking workers.

”Yes, they blocked the road,” Taylor said.

Des Moines Fire Chief Ron Wakeham disputed Taylor’s story.

”I have never heard of anything like that and I can tell you if they had we would have had them arrested for interfering with official acts of firemen and firefighters,” Wakeham said.

Peno said it simply didn’t happen.

”That is absolutely ludicrous,” he said.