By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – Cooper Tire’s ongoing labor troubles in China could get a little more attention on the international trade front, as a U.S. trade delegation meets its Chinese counterparts today and Friday.
On Wednesday, a letter signed by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and congressmen urged the delegation to “help protect the interest of an American company, while dysfunction at a joint venture in China poses risks to U.S. jobs in Northeast Mississippi and elsewhere.”
That company is Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper Tire, which employs some 1,300 people in Tupelo. The tire manufacturer also has plants in Findlay and Texarkana, Ark.
U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, as well as U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, sent the letter to the trade group that includes Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Mike Froman, who are at the U.S.-China Joint Committee on Commerce and Trade meetings today and Friday.
The letter addresses what it calls a “serious issue Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. is facing at its joint venture in China which has put the entire company at risk, including more than 5,000 jobs in the United States, and which has serious implications for all American businesses with interests and investments in China. We respectfully request your assistance in resolving this urgent matter.”
Cooper Tire spokeswoman Anne Roman said the company appreciated the letter to shed light on its ongoing problems in China, but said employees shouldn’t read too much into its content.
“There’s no reason at all for employees to take this as a threat to their jobs,” she said.
Roman said Cooper has made several attempts to work with the Chinese union at the plant to no avail, and the company hopes the high-profile meeting will help resolve any lingering issues.
The joint venture, Cooper Chengshan Tire Co., has been a thorn in Cooper’s side. Since July, the 5,000 Chinese workers there have refused to make Cooper-branded tires or allowed Cooper management to review key data, including financial information. That has forced Cooper – which has a 65 percent interest in the plant – to delay its quarterly earnings report, which was due last month.
At issue is a merger attempt by India-based Apollo Tyre for Cooper. The Chinese say the $2.5 billion deal is financially shaky, and they also cite cultural differences.
The letter also says “Cooper has requested assistance from Chinese government authorities at all levels, has appealed to local police, and has attempted to seek justice in local courts of law, but the situation continues. Cooper management has made multiple attempts to … reach a resolution. … At this point, the situation remains unresolved and Cooper has suffered considerable losses.”
The letter made no mention of the merger, however.