Taylor mum on Titan Tire’s Natchez layoffs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Titan Tire CEO Morry Taylor refused to comment Monday on reports that at least 20 workers were fired Friday from the company’s Natchez plant.

When asked in a telephone interview whether he would confirm or deny such reports, Taylor said &uot;no, I&160;won’t. Maybe you should go ask T-Bone. … When we’re ready to make an announcement, we’ll let you know.&uot;

Taylor was referring to Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 303L, which has been on strike from the plant since September 1998. At least 20 workers were fired Jan. 10 from Titan Tire of Natchez, and at least 30 more were laid off Jan. 12. The latter cuts were made despite Taylor’s comment on Jan. 11 that the company was not planning any more layoffs.

Natchez Mayor Hank Smith said he did not hear of further layoffs until Monday — and that he would contact Taylor as soon as possible to get the facts. Such reports &uot;make you wonder just where (Titan officials) are going&uot; as far as the future of the Natchez plant is concerned, Smith said.

&uot;Maybe they haven’t made plans yet, and that’s why they’re reluctant to make an announcement,&uot;&160;he added. &uot;And it’s also possible that there’s not a lot local folks can do to influence their decision about the company’s future.&uot;

At the same time, Smith said cutbacks at the plant, one of the Miss-Lou’s largest manufacturers, &uot;certainly aren’t good,&uot; especially given uncertainty about the future of International Paper’s Natchez mill, which is searching for a buyer.

Fred Middleton, economic development chairman for the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, said he had talked with Titan officials Monday but was not told about further layoffs.

&uot;I&160;only called to tell them that we (chamber officials) had sent a letter to the city asking for them to renew the tax exemption,&uot;&160;Middleton said.

In July 1999, aldermen voted 3-3 on whether to grant a tax exemption to Titan on $10 million worth of equipment. Then-mayor Larry &uot;Butch&uot; Brown cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the exemption.

In a Jan. 18 meeting with chamber officials, Titan managers said renewing the exemption was the only thing local officials could do to boost Titan’s finances.

In Monday’s interview, Taylor did note that he has not yet visited Titan’s Brownsville, Texas plant.

Taylor said on Jan. 16 that Titan Tire officials will not make decisions about cutbacks at Titan’s factories until after they visit the company’s Brownsville, Texas, plant.

That visit will be made later this week, but a specific date has not been scheduled, Taylor said Monday.

Taylor has said Titan officials are evaluating &uot;the direction the company’s going&uot; given an impending recession, and that if the company did decide to cut jobs, it would do so in Natchez.

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

He added that if the company decided to produce only rubber at the Natchez plant, the plant’s tire-making equipment would probably be shipped to Titan’s factories in Brownsville or Des Moines, Iowa.

Plant Manager Dave Fines has repeatedly refused to comment on layoffs or the plant’s future, referring all calls to Taylor.