SPRINGFIELD, Ill.(July 11, 2001)—Top elected officials in Illinois are getting involved in efforts to save Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s Decatur, Ill., tire manufacturing facility which is marked for closing.
A bi-partisan lineup of officials including Illinois Governor George Ryan, U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Decatur Mayor Terry Howley and various federal and state legislators met with Bridgestone/Firestone CEO John T. Lampe in Springfield July 9. Their goal was to persuade Mr. Lampe to reconsider the plan to close the Decatur facility by year's end.
A BFS press release July 10 called the discussions “very open,” but held out little hope that the tire maker would change its mind.
“In order to ensure our company's future financial viability, it is clear that one of our plants must be closed,” the release stated. “A number of factors, such as size, age and product line flexibility, make Decatur the most likely candidate.”
When it announced the probable closing of the Decatur facility June 27, BFS said the plant was running at only about 50 percent of its capacity of 30,000 tires per day. Built as a tank manufacturing plant in 1942 and renovated as a tire plant in 1963, Decatur is the company's oldest facility.
Some 2.7 million Decatur-made Firestone Wilderness AT tires were among the 6.5 million tires recalled by Bridgestone/Firestone in August, following revelations about tread separations that allegedly claimed the lives of 203 U.S. motorists.
The potential loss of the Decatur plant and its 1,800 union jobs—including 450 workers who were placed on indefinite layoff in January—is a traumatic prospect for Decatur and for United Steelworkers Union Local 713.
“We are going to turn over every rock and stone to keep this plant open,” Local 713 President Roger Gates said June 27, the day the closing was announced. In its July 10 statement, Bridgestone/Firestone said: “BFS has asked the USWA to enter negotiations regarding our plans.”
A spokesman for Mr. Ryan said after the meeting that the governor had presented his case to Mr. Lampe, but had nothing to add to that. A spokeswoman for Mr. Durbin could not be reached for comment after the meeting.
A second spokesman for Mr. Ryan told Reuters before the meeting that the mood wasn't optimistic.
“We certainly will discuss whether anything can be done at the state or congressional level to get them to stay, but our hopes are not high on that,” the spokesman said.
Besides Messrs. Ryan, Durbin and Howley, officials present at the Springfield meeting with Mr. Lampe included U.S. Reps. David Phelps, Ray LaHood, Timothy Johnson, Lane Evans and John Shimkus; State Sen. Duane Noland; and State Reps. Julie Curry and Bill Mitchell.