WOODBURN, Ind. — The U.S. Department of Labor recently approved enhanced federal unemployment benefits for workers at the BFGoodrich tire plant in Woodburn — but those displaced workers were back on the job by the time the agency finalized its decision.
Workers at the Woodburn plant were laid off in early 2020 as production of certain tires shifted to company facilities overseas. This enabled the 80 or so affected people to qualify for benefits through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides enhanced unemployment, education, relocation, job search, wage subsidy and tax benefits for impacted workers.
The layoffs prompted the Indiana Department of Workforce Development to apply for TAA benefits on their behalf, according to Mandy Mahurin, operations manager for the TAA unit at the Indiana agency.
While the Labor Department recently moved to unlock these benefits, word out of Woodburn is that the impacted employees already had returned to work or declined offers to resume their careers at the plant by the time the federal government ruled on the case.
Market conditions and COVID-19 combined to help create a unique situation at the Indiana plant for dozens of workers who would have qualified for the benefits.
"On a good note for the workers, we had filed this petition in response to the WARN notice filed some months ago ... and just got the certification," Ms. Mahurin said. But all the workers, since then, have been recalled. "I'm glad everybody gets to keep their job and people are working."
United Steelworkers Local 715 President Terry Cunningham Jr. has seen the ups and downs of production at the BFG plant in recent times.
And these days, there are plenty of ups at the facility owned by Michelin North America Inc. and located east of Fort Wayne near the Ohio border.
The facility, he said, previously produced both passenger and light truck tires, but production of passenger tires has shifted to other company facilities overseas, Mr. Cunningham said he believes. He estimated the facility, at one point, produced about 4,000 passenger tires along with the 14,000 or so light truck tires being made each day.
There had been periodic, temporary shutdowns at the facility during the past couple of years prior to the plans for thought-to-be permanent layoffs announced earlier last year, he said.
Mr. Cunningham estimated about 70 to 80 workers previously laid off have since been recalled or refused to go back to work. Ultimately, no one was displaced, as slots created by retirements helped allow furloughed staff to return to work.
COVID-19 also had an impact on the facility, the union president said, as production was shut down for about 12 weeks ending last summer. This overall disruption created pent-up demand that the plant is now working to meet, requiring the need for more staff.
"We actually have back orders we're trying to catch up on now. Production wise, we need all the tires we can make," Mr. Cunningham said.
Michelin North America did confirm the plant is looking to hire additional workers.
"We are aware of, and respect the TAA ruling, however it's important to note that at this time our Woodburn facility is actively hiring and increasing daily production," spokesman Phil Watson said in a statement.