Titan talking to union

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2001

Titan Tire officials have tentatively reached an agreement with Steelworkers Local 164 officials on a new contract for Titan’s Des Moines plant.

&uot;A tentative agreement has been signed, but we still have to do the back-to-work agreement,&uot; Titan Chief Executive Officer Morry Taylor confirmed Friday.

Negotiation of a contract and a back-to-work agreement would end a 39-month-old strike at the Des Moines plant. Talks recessed Thursday and will resume Wednesday.

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But what that means for a strike by United Steelworkers of America Local 303L in Natchez remains to be seen.

Taylor – who did not divulge the terms of the Des Moines agreement Friday – said any Natchez contract would probably be similar to the Des Moines contract.

&uot;I’ve told you and everybody else that everything rests with Des Moines,&uot; Taylor said.

But Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley, president of Local 303L, said that Titan would still have to negotiate a separate contract with Natchez.

&uot;There are issues that must be negotiated in Natchez that are different from those in Des Moines,&uot; Bradley said.

Bradley would not say Friday what those specific issues are. But previous negotiations between Titan and Natchez union officials have centered on such bread-and-butter issues as working hours, benefits and seniority.

The strike at Titan’s Natchez plant began in mid-September 1998, when Titan was given the right to buy the bankrupt plant from Fidelity-Condere.

Several negotiations between Titan and Local 303L officials took place, with few results, until talks last broke off in June 1999.

Steelworkers &uot;remain committed to negotiating an overall settlement on a return to work and other critical matters,&uot; Bradley said.

When asked about the possibility of renewed negotiations in Natchez, Bradley said he is &uot;confident that something is in the works for Natchez.&uot; But he acknowledged that no Titan officials had contacted Local 303L to set up contract talks as of Friday.

Taylor would not say Friday whether such a call would be forthcoming.

And what jobs will be waiting for workers at Titan’s Natchez plant if a contract is negotiated with Local 303L also remains to be seen.

On Friday, Taylor said that a return to work at Titan’s Natchez plant &uot;won’t happen any time soon.&uot;

In April, Titan scaled back its Natchez workforce from 230 workers to about 12 workers – mostly maintenance staff – due to economic factors.

Orders for rubber were cancelled, and the plant was put on &uot;stand-by mode&uot;&160;but would not be closed, Taylor said. The Natchez plant also laid off about 50 employees in early January.

Meanwhile, union officials continue to prepare for a hearing on a complaint the National Labor Relations Board filed against Titan Tire in August 2000. That hearing is set to begin Aug. 27 in Natchez.

According to the complaint, Titan did not have the right to fire about 250 employees when it took over the Natchez plant without first negotiating with the union. Union members have estimated hiring back workers would cost Titan $30 million.

The complaint also alleges, among other things:

4That in August 1998, Taylor threatened to fire employees, lower wages, move work to another plant or close the plant because of employees’ involvement with the union.

4That Taylor asked employees to remove the union as their collective bargaining representative in August 1998.

4That other Titan executives interrogated employees or threatened not to hire people involved in union activities.

4That Titan has refused to give the union information about pay rates and hiring dates for production and maintenance employees, as well as information about the Natchez plant’s safety record and equipment.

4That Titan refused to give the union information about contractor Mark E. Mason.

4That Titan refused to give the union information about daily production at the plant. The complaint states that the union, as the collective bargaining unit, needs information for negotiations.

4That Titan fired union employees and made numerous changes to its benefit plan on or about Sept. 4, 1998, without giving the union the opportunity to bargain regarding the changes.