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Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Goodyear narrows field of buyers for St. Marys plant

Union says it wants satisfactory contract before sale occurs

By Janie Southard
ST. MARYS - The field of possible buyers has narrowed for the Goodyear plant in St. Marys, but United Steelworkers say there can't be a sale until a satisfactory contract is struck between the union and any new owner, according to the local union president.
Local 200L President Gary Glass said the list of potential buyers has been tightened to those Goodyear "would actually consider." However, he did not know the name of any company on the short list.
Calls to the local plant were not returned by press time today.
In the current union contract, the company agreed that a precondition of sale of any its union plants is that the purchaser must negotiate a new labor agreement.    Union employees protection in the event of a sale is called successorship language.
"(The language) was in our last contract, and we still have it, even though the company fought to take our veto power away. They can announce the highest bidder, but there can't be a final sale until we get a livable contract with the buyer," Glass said.
Glass defined livable as a contract that matches or exceeds the union's present agreement with Goodyear. A new three-year contract brought striking Steelworkers back to work in early January after three-months on the picket line.
Glass said succesorship language is fairly typical but pointed out the recent contract's language is "very strong," owing no doubt to the fact the plant has been for sale for well over a year. The local plant is part of the entire Engineered Products Division that is for sale, which includes four U.S. union plants, two Canadian union plants and 24 overseas plants.
How long that negotiation could take depends on a variety of factors. Glassaid successorship negotiations between Steelworkers and Titan, the new owner of Goodyear's Freeport, Ill., plant, took about a year.
Wayne Ranick, union spokesman at USW headquarters in Pittsburgh, told The Daily Standard this morning the "sale cannot be completed until the new owner recognizes the union as well as negotiates a new contract.
"(The contract language) keeps the company responsible, gives the union veto power over the sale and recognizes the employees as being one of the plant's assets," Ranick said.
He said both the buyer and union want to reach an agreement quickly. The Freeport sale took a little longer due to complications with other plants Titan was purchasing at the time as well as other scheduled union negotiations involving that company, he added.
On the local front, negotiations between Steelworkers and the St. Marys plant are on hold after three weeks of on-again-off-again talks, according to Glass, who said local negotiations in the past have taken as much as seven weeks.
The master agreement is in place company-wide for the next three years; however, all Locals establish their own formal agreement with their allied plants to determine work rules, job bidding procedures, holidays, seniority issues, etc.
Per that master agreement, union employees eligible for retirement were offered a buyout incentive to be calculated to a $40,000 cap. Locally, 31 buyout slots were available to eligible Steelworkers. This group will be released in two phases: March 1 and April 1, a step-up from the original edict, which gave the new retirees the option to continue working until the end of 2007.
Rumor has interpreted those earlier dates as an indication the plant is already sold; however, Glass said the early outs are to avoid another layoff. (Currently, there are more than 240 union workers on layoff from the St. Marys plant.)
"Our military business has slowed and the company was looking at laying off another 30 people," Glass said. "So it was decided to (release the buyout group) early."
Additional online story on this date
Kip Wright was honored as the 2006 Citizen of the Year at Thursday evening's annual Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce awards banquet.
Before a standing audience and with his ever-infectious smile, Wright, of Celina, humbly accepted the honorary plaque from chamber Director Pam Buschur. [More]
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