BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Oct. 6, 2000) — Titan International Inc. laid off between 20 and 29 workers at its Brownsville tire facility beginning July 14.
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 will be producing 550,000 pounds of tires per day and employing 600 when the multiphase start-up process ends early in 2002. Mr. Taylor emphasized the plant still is 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.
"We´ve got to get through the next phases, and (Mr. Ash) is our ramp-up specialist," Mr. Taylor said.
The United Steelworkers of America—a critic of Mr. Taylor and Titan because of long, ongoing strikes against the company—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.
"He should have the plant up and running at full capacity by now," said John Peno, president of USWA Local 164 in Des Moines, which has been on strike since May 1, 1998.
Mr. Taylor said all the laid-off employees will be brought back, and the facility will continue to ramp up in phases. "We´re moving equipment in... 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.