HANFORD, Calif. (Jan. 22, 2001)—Negotiations on a plant closing agreement between Pirelli Tire North America and the union representing workers at its shuttered Hanford tire factory began Jan. 16.
Pirelli shut down the facility Jan. 4 after giving a six-month closure notice Oct. 5, saying the plant wasn´t competitive with other Pirelli sites worldwide or operations of competitors. When talks aimed at trying to save the plant didn´t provide the changes Pirelli sought, it closed the tire unit and will pay workers through April 5, when the six-month notice would have expired.
"What they wanted was way more than we could give up," said Doug Godinho, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 703, which represents the roughly 435 hourly workers at the factory. He said Pirelli was comparing Hanford´s performance to facilities in Brazil and Venezuela and the California plant can´t match up because of lower wages paid in those countries.
Workers at the plant were disappointed but not surprised, the Local 703 president said. "We never hid anything from the membership. They knew things weren´t going well."
Mr. Godinho wouldn´t reveal details about what Pirelli asked for because he didn´t want it to impact plant closing negotiations.
The closure agreement will cover such areas as worker pensions and benefits, and what to do with money left in the supplemental unemployment benefit and safety funds. He didn´t know how many Local 703 members are eligible for pensions, but the union will look to bridge workers who are close to receiving a full pension.
The union and company also worked with state and local agencies to make sure employees got necessary job retraining. Mr. Godinho said a lot of older workers likely will have a hard time competing for jobs with younger people, especially with double-digit unemployment in the area. The average service of the hourly work force is about 15 years, he said, with a combination of workers with considerably more experience and a number of younger ones.
Pirelli produced about 9,500 passenger and light truck tires daily at Hanford. That was picked up mainly by Pirelli factories in Europe and South America. Pirelli purchased the former Armstrong Rubber Co. plant in 1988. It was Pirelli´s lone remaining U.S. tire factory, but the Italian-owned firm plans to build a new U.S. plant using its Modular Integrated Roboticized System technology.
Mr. Meyer writes for Rubber & Plastics News, a sister publication of Tire Business.