NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s troubles continued in November, as the tire maker announced further temporary layoffs of 2,000 workers at three plants.
Furthermore, the company faced accusations in a USA Today article that BFS had approximately 1,100 complaints from Firestone ATX tire owners before it ever began the recall of 6.5 million ATX and Wilderness AT tires, and it was ordered by an Indianapolis federal judge not to destroy any more recalled tires until some can be gathered as evidence for lawsuits.
On the other hand, BFS reported that the recall is 80-percent complete, with more than 5.5 million tires replaced.
Beginning Jan. 21, BFS will lay off approximately 700 workers at its Oklahoma City, tire manufacturing facility and nearly 400 at its plant in LaVergne, Tenn., the company said in a Nov. 17 press release.
In addition, the firm will shut down its Warren County, Tenn., plant the weeks of Jan. 14 and 21, idling the factory's 900 workers.
These layoffs come on top of BFS' already announced production curtailments, including the indefinite layoff of 450 workers at the tire plant in Decatur, Ill.
The company also scheduled a two-week curtailment in December for the remaining 1,500 workers at Decatur, as well as two two-week shutdowns in November and December for LaVergne and Oklahoma City.
BFS blamed an oversupply of passenger, light truck and truck/bus tires—based on a buildup of inventory in anticipation of a strike that never came—for the new layoffs, the same reason it gave for the earlier ones. A BFS spokeswoman in Nashville, however, acknowledged that the softness in demand for Firestone replacement tires also played a role.
"As we dig down into inventory, and sales begin to come back, we hope and expect to bring people back, beginning in the second quarter of 2001," she said.
The claims mentioned in the Nov. 15 USA Today article were sent to BFS between 1989 and 1999, the newspaper stated. While only 57 claims were made from 1989 to 1995, the number surged thereafter, with 367 in 1998 alone, the article said.
Some claimants attached letters to their claim forms, and USA Today quoted from these letters, obtained along with the claim forms from court documents that were unsealed at the paper's motion.
"I cannot believe.|.|.|Firestone will not take responsibility for the problems associated with these tires," read one letter from Melinda Myers of Pearland, Texas. "I would not want the blood on my hands if I were an employee of your company."
The Nashville spokeswoman said the USA Today story needed "a little bit of balance.|.|.|. We've manufactured millions and millions of tires. We received 1,100 claims out of a tire population of 47 million and a recall universe of 14.4 million." (The 6.5-million figure usually given for the recall is the estimated number of ATX and Wilderness AT tires still on the road when the recall began.)
"It is not realistic to say this number of claims should put a company on alert that there's an underlying defect in its product," she said.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge in the consolidated Firestone product liability lawsuits ordered BFS to leave the recalled tires alone until some could be culled as evidence.
Sarah Evans Barker, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, issued the ruling Nov. 17 at the first organizational hearing of the multi-district litigation. As of that date, about 160 Firestone cases from across the U.S. had been consolidated in Ms. Barker's court.