BROWNSVILLE, Texas (August 1, 2000) — Titan International Inc. laid off between 20 and 29 workers at its Brownsville tire facility beginning July 14, reducing production employment there by 9-12 percent.
A big decline in crop prices and drought in major farming areas have hurt equipment and tire sales in the agricultural market, said Russell Ash, operations manager at the plant. The result is less need for workers at Brownsville — at least for now, he said.
The employees will be put on recall and brought back as the company continues to add machinery and increase production at the factory, Mr. Ash said. The number of workers was reduced to 202 from about 230.
Maurice Taylor Jr., Titan CEO and president, said the plant had hired too many workers in the past few months — before they were needed.
The company has said the 1 million-sq.-ft. facility eventually will produce 550,000 pounds of tires per day and employ 600 by the end of a multiphase start-up process early in 2002. Mr. Taylor emphasized the plant is still in phase two of the project.
"Until we get more equipment in and set up, we´re not going to have people just standing around," he said. "We´re still setting up phase two and trying to move ahead."
Hiring too many workers too soon was one of the factors that led Mr. Taylor, on July 12, to replace former operations manager Chuck Smith with Mr. Ash, who had previous stints as an operations manager at Titan´s Natchez, Miss., tire facility and Walcott, Iowa, wheel factory.
``Chuck couldn´t take Brownsville to the next level," Mr. Taylor said.
``We´ve got to get through the next phases, and (Mr. Ash) is our ramp-up specialist," he said.
The United Steelworkers of America — a critic of Mr. Taylor and Titan because of the long, ongoing strikes in Natchez and Des Moines, Iowa — said the layoffs are another indication that Mr. Taylor has not kept his promises in Brownsville.
The Brownsville project was delayed for several months, shut down twice for retooling and relied heavily on cash and tax incentives from the city, state and local utilities worth a reported $30 million.
"Our message from the beginning to the Brownsville community was to beware, because (Mr. Taylor will) take your money and run," said John Peno, president of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines, which has been on strike since May 1, 1998. "He should have the plant up and running at full capacity by now. The money would have been better spent on school systems or the community."
Mr. Taylor, however, insists all the laid-off employees will be brought back, and the facility will continue to ramp up in phases.
"We´re moving equipment in across the board and will hire people in as we need them," he said.
Titan is manufacturing farm and construction tires in Brownsville, as well as lawn and garden and all-terrain vehicle tires for the replacement market. The factory is operating at 10 to 20 percent of total capacity.