Titan strike ends

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 10, 2001

NATCHEZ – Members of Steelworkers Local 303L on Sunday afternoon voted to approve an agreement with Titan Tire, ending their more than three-year strike from Titan’s Natchez plant.

But there is still no indication when the plant, which is now in &uot;standby mode&uot; due to economic factors, could reopen. The vote – in which more than 70 percent of members voted for the agreement – came a little more than two months after Local 303L members voted to reject another tentative agreement with Titan.

&uot;I think this time, people understood the agreement better,&uot; said Leo &uot;T-Bone&uot; Bradley, president of the United Steelworkers of America local.

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Bradley said he did not yet know how many of the local’s 300-plus members took part in the Sunday afternoon vote. &uot;Let’s just say it was a high turnout,&uot; he said.

The vote was held after a 2 p.m. session in which union officials answered members’ questions about the agreement.

&uot;Now we start pushing for (Titan Chief Executive Officer) Morry Taylor to reopen the plant,&uot; Bradley said.

In April, Titan scaled back its Natchez workforce from 230 workers to about 12 — mostly maintenance staff – due to economic factors. Orders for rubber were cancelled, and the plant was put on &uot;stand-by mode,&uot; according to Taylor.

Neither Bradley nor USWA Staff Representative R. Daniel Flippo would give specifics of the contract Sunday or say what the union could do to push for the plant to reopen.

&uot;We’ll release a press release tomorrow that will explain all that,&uot; Flippo said Sunday following the vote.

&uot;I told (union members) that there’s no guarantee the plant will ever reopen,&uot; Taylor said later Sunday. &uot;It all depends on the economy.&uot;

Taylor did say that the agreement’s provisions do not include payment of more than $1 million by Titan as a settlement of National Labor Relations Board charges filed against the company, as union officials have reported.

&uot;That’s false — we’ll never pay a penny on the NLRB (charges),&uot; Taylor said. &uot;They (union members) have been creating stuff from day one.&uot;

But Bradley and Flippo stood by the union’s statement. &uot;He can say whatever he wants,&uot; Flippo said, referring to Taylor. &uot;We feel confident that he signed the agreement in good faith and that he’ll stick by the agreement.&uot;

Taylor said the agreement Local 303L members voted to reject on Oct. 2 contained a promise that Titan would leave equipment in the Natchez plant for 18 months.

&uot;The new one says we’ll leave it for 12 months,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;I guess they figured, we better approve it quick, or he’ll (Taylor) say, ‘Adios, muchachos.’&uot;

The strike, which started in September 1998, has ruined the lives of many people in Natchez and shown that the area is &uot;anti-business,&uot; Taylor said.

&uot;They should have never gone on strike,&uot; he said.

Local government and economic development officials said they see approval of the agreement as a positive sign for Natchez.

&uot;It’s a big step toward getting the plant reopened,&uot; said Natchez Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith. &uot;If the union members are satisfied with it, then I’m tickled to death they’ve gotten to this point.&uot;

&uot;Any time the union and management can come to an agreement, it’s a positive sign,&uot; said Woody Allen, chairman of the Natchez-Adams County Economic and Community Development Authority. &uot;I think it’s a step in the right direction.&uot;

&uot;I’m just glad they’ve resolved their problems,&uot; said Sammy Cauthen, president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors. &uot;I hope this will help entice industry to come here down the road and entice Titan to reopen their plant.&uot;