Taylor: Titan cuts would be in Natchez

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2001

If Titan International does decide to make further job cuts, they will be made at the company’s Natchez plant, Titan CEO Morry Taylor said Thursday. His comments were made a day after at least 20 employees, mostly maintenance workers, were fired from the plant. Both Taylor and plant officials refused to give the exact number fired.

Taylor said the workers were temporary employees or workers who were still in their &uot;probationary period&uot; with the plant. He said the plant previously had 330 employees.

&uot;We’re not leaving Natchez, … and we’re not planning on moving any equipment,&uot;&160;Taylor said, adding that no further layoffs are planned &uot;at this time.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

But he did say that the reason Titan officials, including Taylor himself, were in town Monday and Tuesday was to &uot;evaluate the direction the company’s going&uot; given an impending recession. Titan officials will make a similar visit to the plant in Brownsville, Texas, in the next two weeks, Taylor said.

&uot;But if we do make cuts, we’ll make them in Natchez,&uot; Taylor said. The reason Natchez would be targeted is that it is producing fewer tires than Titan’s other plants – about 80 pounds per manhour at last count, he added.

One option being considered by Titan is to run the plant’s rubber mixing machines around the clock, producing a small amount of tire rubber for Titan’s Brownsville plant and selling the rest on the open market.

If the company decided to produce only tire rubber at the Natchez plant – and not the tires themselves – the plant’s tire-making equipment would probably be shipped to the Brownsville plant or Titan’s factory in Des Moines, Iowa, Taylor said.

Taylor added that if the equipment is moved to Brownsville, some of Titan’s Natchez employees would probably be given the option to take jobs at the Brownsville factory.

But if the equipment is moved to Des Moines, Natchez workers probably would not be offered new jobs there.

&uot;We already have a full house there,&uot; Taylor said.

A future recession aside, Titan’s financial numbers have also showed a downturn.

For the nine months ending Sept. 30, the company’s sales fell 5 percent to $429.7 million.

And its stock price was down to $4.75 a share on Thursday from a high of just over $8 in March.

Natchez, Adams County and economic officials were reluctant to comment on the layoffs, especially since they still have not heard much firsthand information from Titan.

But Charlie Blaney, president of the Concordia Parish Police Jury and a past president of the Vidalia Chamber of Commerce, said layoffs at Titan will greatly affect Concordia Parish as well as Adams County.

&uot;Any time we lose jobs in this area, it’s a sad situation,&uot; Blaney said. &uot;Still, I&160;realize the economy’s going into a downturn, so this news isn’t surprising.&uot;

Mississippi Employment Security Commission officials at local and state levels also would not say whether any recently fired Titan employees have contacted the local unemployment office.

And even though many of the plant’s employees are from Concordia Parish, their claims would have to come through the Natchez unemployment office.

That is because the plant is located in Mississippi, said Sally Frazier of the Louisiana Department of Labor’s Ferriday unemployment office.

Still, she did acknowledge that layoffs at Titan’s Natchez plant would have a devastating effect on Concordia Parish.

&uot;During the winter, farmers are through with farming and construction crews can’t work because the weather’s bad,&uot; Frazier said.

&uot;Everything hits us at once. And we sure don’t need anything else&uot; to leave more people jobless, she added.

One group that is watching developments at the plant very closely is United Steelworkers of America Local 303L, which has been on strike from Titan’s Natchez plant since September 1998.

&uot;We saw the maintenance workers back up to the plant (Wednesday), load up their personal tools and leave,&uot;&160;said Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley, Local 303L president, who maintains that the plant has no more than 160 employees.

Bradley said he has also heard from sources inside the plant that Titan plans eventually to operate only rubber mixing machines at the factory.

But Bradley had no response to Taylor’s comments. &uot;We’ll just wait and see what happens,&uot; he said.