Steelworkers union eyes Cooper Tire

cooper-tire-logoBy Dennis Seid
Daily Journal

TUPELO – The United Steelworkers held meetings Thursday and Friday in hopes it can garner enough interest to form a local USW union in Cooper Tire and Rubber Co.’s Tupelo manufacturing plant.

About 40 people attended a meeting Thursday at the Holiday Inn Express, where USW organizers encouraged attendees to recruit Cooper Tire employees to form an organizing committee.

“We’re here to help y’all,” said an unidentified union representative. “We can’t do it for you.”

Mississippi is in USW’s District 9. Randy Rigsby, a USW staff organizer from Alabama, told the Daily Journal that the meeting was closed to anyone not with Cooper Tire or the union.

“You know why we’re here,” he said. “This is a private meeting for the USW.”

Asked if he would talk to the Daily Journal after the meeting, Rigsby said, “probably not.”

The union must form a core group, known as an organizing committee, whose job is to recruit members and get employees to call for an election at the plant.

“You’re going to be our eyes and ears at the plant,” one organizer said. “We’re going to have to have you get them committed.”

Another organizer said a good tactic was to approach employees in the parking lot.

Cooper Tire’s other U.S. plants in Texarkana, Ark., and Findlay, Ohio – where the company is based – are unionized.

Anne Roman, the company’s vice president of communications and public affairs, said Cooper is aware of the USW’s organizing attempts.

“While employees at the Tupelo plant have the right to decide if a union is right for them or not, Cooper has a similar right to express to our team that we do not believe a union is in the best interests of the workforce,” she said.
“The Tupelo employees have demonstrated over the years that their performance – including an outstanding safety record – has made this plant a role model for other facilities in many ways. Cooper greatly values the contributions of Tupelo employees and we have always been able to work directly and successfully with the team there without the interference of a third party.”

Cooper Tire employs about 1,300 people in Tupelo, where it has operated since 1984. At least two other union drives have failed over the years, though a speaker at Thursday’s meeting said 160 people joined the organizing committee in 2004.
Roman said change was not needed in Tupelo.

“We have shared with the employees that they have the type of culture and performance we are seeking across all Cooper facilities and there is no reason to change what has been so effective,” she said. “We are confident the pending merger with Apollo Tyres will bring greater opportunities for all of Cooper, including Tupelo, and we look forward to taking advantage of these opportunities after the transaction closes, which we expect to take place by the end of this year, perhaps as early as October.”

In June, India-based Apollo Tyres said it would acquire Cooper in an all-cash deal valued at about $2.2 billion. The acquisition would be funded by Apollo taking on debt that critics have said neither company can handle.
Apollo, founded in 1972 and headquartered in Gurgaon, India, employs about 16,000 people worldwide, with annual revenue of $2.5 billion. Cooper Tire, with $4.2 billion in sales last year, was founded in 1914 and employs about 13,000 worldwide.

In explaining why they accepted an offer from a smaller company, Cooper officials said the merger will create a bigger, stronger company better positioned for long-term success.
Apollo said it “plans to maintain the networks and workforces Cooper already has in place and grow existing facilities to meet the combined company’s expanded needs.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com