DES MOINES, Iowa— Titan Tire Corp. cannot permanently replace striking union workers or move jobs and equipment from its Des Moines tire plant, according to a Feb. 11 National Labor Relations Board ruling. But Maurice Taylor Jr., president and CEO of parent company Titan International Inc., said the firm will appeal the ruling, and foresees the situation will be different when the case goes before a ``real court.''
The decision, which addressed several alleged unfair labor practice charges against Titan, stems from the 10-month-old strike at its agricultural tire plant, where 670 members of United Steelworkers of America Local 164 walked out May 1.
The union filed several charges against Titan after the strike began; on Sept. 15 the NLRB agreed that a handful of them had merit. Last October the case then went before Jerry Hermele, NLRB administrative law judge, in Des Moines.
According to Mr. Hermele's 17-page decision, Titan violated the National Labor Relations Act by:
Threatening to move equipment and relocate jobs from the Des Moines plant to its Brownsville, Texas, tire plant, which is scheduled to begin production later this year;
Threatening to permanently replace striking workers;
Discontinuing insurance benefits for a group of 24 employees on leave at the time of the strike; and
Implementing its June 22, 1998, ``last, best and final'' contract proposal before a bargaining impasse was reached.
The judge ordered Titan to ``cease and desist'' from the cited unfair labor practices.
Titan also must restore production to the plant's operating level before May 14, 1998, when Mr. Taylor mentioned moving equipment from Des Moines; revoke its June 22 ``last, best and final'' offer; bargain with the union in good faith; provide the union with a list of the replacement workers and offer union employees job reinstatement once they make an unconditional offer to return to work.
``The judge's decision indicated this is an unfair labor practices strike, not an economic one as the company alleged,'' Local 164 President John Peno said. ``That means they can't permanently replace us.''
He called the NLRB decision ``our biggest win since this campaign started. We know now that when the dust settles, those jobs are ours like we've always said they are.''
Mr. Taylor said he expected a decision favoring the union from an appointed labor board judge and looks forward to the case entering the federal court system, where he expects to win with an ``actual judge.''
He added that he didn't understand why the NLRB judge would order production back to the level prior to May 14 or a contract status prior to June 22 when there was no production and no contract at those times. But he said if the decision meant going back to square one in negotiations, that would be fine with him.
The only reason the union would even want a list of replacement workers' names would be to harass them, he added.
While Titan has praised the work of the employees hired since the strike began, sales and profits have been down since 1998's second quarter.
Meanwhile, a strike continues at Titan's plant in Natchez, Miss., where USWA Local 303 walked out Sept. 15. USWA representatives and local union and company officials from both Des Moines and Natchez met for talks on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 in Natchez and Des Moines, respectively. Little progress was reported.
In Des Moines, major issues include wages, forced overtime, pension, retiree benefits and job security. The union has said it won't compromise on replacement workers remaining in the plant and taking its jobs once the labor dispute ends.
Titan has hired about 450 replacements and the Des Moines plant is operating at about 70 percent of pre-strike production levels, according to Gary Carlson, president of Titan Tire.
In Natchez, approximately 200 workers have been hired for production jobs.