Continental Tire North America Inc. has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the United Steelworkers (USW) as the deal to sell its Bryan, Ohio, off-the-road tire plant seems stalled, with the union and potential buyer failing to agree on a new contract.
Conti said the charge, filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), is ``based upon the union's refusal to enter into a labor agreement with Rodos Giants L.L.C.'' Rodos is the U.S. corporation operated by Dortmund, Germany-based RÃ¶sler Group.
``The Steelworkers have both legal and contractual obligations to negotiate a new labor agreement with the potential purchaser of the Bryan plant,'' said Rick Ledsinger, vice president of human resources for Conti. ``The union clearly violated these obligations by refusing to recognize its agreement with Rodos and breaking off negotiations.''
A union spokesman said the charges are without merit.
``It's apparent that anybody can file charges, even frivolous ones,'' he told Tire Business.
The Conti charge with the NLRB followed a tumultuous series of conflicting reports from RÃ¶sler and union officials.
On June 21, RÃ¶sler and the USW offered widely contrasting views of the progress of talks to satisfy a successorship clause in Conti's pact with the union that called for a new contract with any buyer before a sale can go through.
Paul RÃ¶sler Jr., managing director and CEO of RÃ¶sler Group, had told Tire Business that the German off-the-road tire retreader had signed a deal with the International USW's Ron Hoover, a contract coordinator, on June 16. In that ``deal,'' Mr. RÃ¶sler said the company agreed to similar terms the USW and Conti have in their current labor contract.
A RÃ¶sler press release said its new U.S. entity, Rodos, would acquire and operate the factory.
``We wanted to mirror the existing plan that they had,'' Mr. RÃ¶sler said of the contract. ``Of course, we're planning on doing better for both sides.... Both parties really don't like it that much, but it's a good start, in my opinion,'' he added.
RÃ¶sler Group had agreed to retain all 257 union employees at the factory, he said, and provide a similar pension plan to the one the USW has with Conti. Meanwhile, Conti would be responsible for all legacy costs, according to Mr. RÃ¶sler, who together with his brother Martin, also managing director of Rosler Group, came to Ohio for bargaining talks.
As further proof, a photo taken on the day of the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was sent to Tire Business by Mel Kurtz, an investor working with the RÃ¶slers on union negotiations. It showed a smiling Martin RÃ¶sler-his arm around Chad Apaliski of the USW-standing next to Mr. Hoover and Paul RÃ¶sler.
But Mr. Hoover, the International USW's contract coordinator, said the MOU was not a tentative agreement and it listed several items of disagreement between the two parties. He declined to discuss those items but acknowledged the proposed contract had similarities to the union's existing contract with Conti.
Mr. Hoover admitted he was surprised that Paul RÃ¶sler had said that the company was pleased to have reached an agreement with the union and ``will continue with the acquisition'' of the Bryan plant. He said Mr. RÃ¶sler was aware the MOU needed to be ratified by Bryan Local 890L before the sale of the plant could close.
The International USW based in Pittsburgh issued a statement June 21 saying that RÃ¶sler Group ``will not purchase'' the Bryan facility because it failed to reach a new contract with the union. The local's executive board needed to approve the MOU, according to John Bowling, chair of the local and a lead negotiator, and then put the terms up to its membership for ratification-which the local board refused to do.
``We're not taking anything back to the membership,'' Mr. Bowling said. ``If (Mr. RÃ¶sler) is thinking it's a done deal, he knows better than that because the successorship clause says he has to have an agreement with the union.... They knew it had to be ratified by the members, and it was not.''
In filing its NLRB action, Conti said it signed a letter of intent with RÃ¶sler on Jan. 13, and the German firm began talks with the union in February, culminating in the June 16 MOU.
``The union now denies that the June 16 memorandum of understanding was a binding agreement,'' Conti said in a statement.
The union spokesman rejected that notion. ``There's no agreement at all between the Steelworkers and RÃ¶sler,'' he said.
Conti said it is seeking an order from the NLRB requiring the union to comply with the terms of the MOU. Conti and RÃ¶sler then would resume bargaining to implement the transaction, the tire maker said.
Without union ratification of a contract, RÃ¶sler cannot complete its intended purchase of the Bryan facility from Conti by July 31.
Mr. RÃ¶sler had said the new ``deal'' with the USW would expire on Dec. 10, 2006, which happens to be the exact same day the union's current contract with Conti expires, according to Mr. Bowling.