BROWNSVILLE, Texas—The United Steelworkers of America believes Titan International Inc.'s manufacturing shutdown at its Brownsville tire plant is one more indication the firm isn't keeping its hiring promises or meeting production goals. But the company is using the projected three-month period to get equipment ready for full production of agricultural and off-the-road tires and will employ 170 at the plant into October, said Titan President and CEO Maurice Taylor Jr., before the Aug. 4 announcement that Carlisle Companies Inc. is buying Titan.
``We are not shut down; we have people working inside and have hired 30 to 40 people in the last few weeks to get this plant going,'' Mr. Taylor said.
When asked if the factory would be ready for increased production by October, he said: ``We'd better be.''
The Titan Tire Corp. of Texas plant is producing a small number of lawn and garden tires no larger than 12 inches in diameter. But most of it still is being used for training, storage and machinery maintenance.
The plant's status is the problem, because according to previous company projections, it should be producing tires right now, the USWA claims. Titan had said the factory would begin initial production as early as mid-1997 after ground was broken in November 1996.
Mr. Taylor has said the factory, which will be completed in phases over three years, eventually will produce $200 million to $250 million in tire sales annually. But the strikes that started last year at Titan Tire plants in Des Moines, Iowa, and Natchez, Miss., have hurt the ramp-up in Brownsville.
The company has been forced to use engineers and other salaried workers to help out in Des Moines and Natchez, pushing the Texas project months behind schedule, Mr. Taylor said.
Titan also faces potential problems in keeping some of the $30 million in local and state tax incentives it was promised for coming to Brownsville. The company is supposed to have 375 employees in place by December, or it could forfeit parts of the package.
The USWA wants to show how the strikes are affecting the company's operation so it can get the labor disputes settled, said John Peno, president of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines. The local's 670 members went on strike May 1, 1998.
``In order to get that plant up and running at the levels Mr. Taylor talks about, Titan is going to have to invest millions of dollars in new equipment—including the installation of a new power plant,'' Mr. Peno said.
``When he's wasting tens of millions of dollars trying to break our unions, where's the money going to come from?''
Much of the equipment the plant needs, including mixers, fabric cutters and calenders, is on-site now and will be installed during the production suspension, Mr. Taylor said. The facility also holds some equipment that has been maintained and is bound for Des Moines and Natchez, he said.