Lone Union City Goodyear official faces media; county mayor says information provided vague

Lone Union City Goodyear official faces media; county mayor says information provided vague

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011 9:02 pm

By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
In the end, Clint Smith stood alone at a podium in the Hampton Centré to deliver the worst news to hit Obion County in more than 40 years.
Goodyear is closing its Union City plant by the end of this year.
The official announcement came at what was billed as a news conference Thursday afternoon at the Hampton Centré.
The conference center attached to the Hampton Inn off Reelfoot Avenue has a capacity of 300.
The news conference was attended by a group of slightly more than 30, most of whom represented news media.
Conspicuously absent from the news conference was anyone besides Smith representing Goodyear at the local or corporate level.
Smith is the local plant’s communications manager.
He conducted the 25-minute news conference, which was dominated by questions from the few who were in attendance.
“I think it was very vague,” County Mayor Benny McGuire said in reaction to the news conference.
He was the only county elected official who attended the event. There were no Union City officials at the news conference.
“I’m very shocked, as are all residents of Obion County,” McGuire told The Messenger about Goodyear’s news.
He estimated about 50 percent of the plant’s 1,900 associates are from Obion County.
When asked how many of Obion County’s businesses the Goodyear closing will affect, McGuire was quick to respond.
“I would say every one of them,” McGuire said.
“Goodyear closing is an economic nuclear bomb on 1,900 working families and all of us in northwest Tennessee,” state Sen. Roy Herron told The Messenger at the news conference. (See related story, Page 1.)
Smith’s explanation about Goodyear’s decision to close its Union City plant came in a few short statements.
“Goodyear took action because it is consistent with the need to reduce high-cost capacity and even though it’s a difficult one, it is a decision that Goodyear took,” he said.
Smith went on to explain there is no specific date to shut down the plant, other than it will be completely shut down by the end of this year.
The majority of the work from the Union City plant will be distributed to other Goodyear plants across North America. The company operates consumer tire plants in New York, North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and in Ontario, Canada.
“An exact closure date has not been set,” he said as part of his prepared remarks.
Smith said some salaried workers may be offered opportunities at those other North American plants. Hourly workers will be offered “lump sum exit payments” and, if they don’t accept that, they will be eligible for “preferential hire rights at other plants,” he said.
Smith’s explanation as to how the plant closure will be done was that the plant would continue to operate at current staffing and production levels until the closure. He said the average pay for hourly workers is about $23 an hour and that salaried workers earn about $5,800 a month.
He told those at the news conference the local plant builds about 27,000 tires a day, and that last year the plant produced about seven million tires.
Despite many attempts to pin him down to specific details about the Goodyear plant closure, Smith stuck to the same answers and statements several times during the news conference.
“We understand it is difficult news for our employees and their families,” he said.
Smith added that Goodyear is “committed” to working with appropriate local, state and federal agencies to help local Goodyear associates “through this transition.”
When asked about specific details as to what Goodyear will be doing to help its associates, Smith responded, “The details about that haven’t been finalized yet.”
Smith did offer some insight into the company’s decision to close the local tire plant.
“While progress has been made in recent months at the Union City plant, it still lags behind other plants in North America,” Smith said.
He said the local tire plant is not a “competitive operation.”
“Over the years, Goodyear has made considerable investments in this facility, and the plant has not generated a return that is acceptable for those investments,” Smith said.
It was on Nov. 13, 1967, that Goodyear formally announced it was opening a plant in Union City.
“It was a Monday,” Johnny Fowler told The Messenger today. The announcement was made in the Governor’s Suite of the former Biltmore Motel on South First Street in Union City.
“I’m the only guy still living that worked on the deal from day one,” Fowler said.
He can still remember when the first tire rolled off the assembly line at the plant — on the last day of October 1968.
Goodyear’s new plant in Union City changed the landscape of northwest Tennessee, and its departure is expected to have a devastating impact on the local economy.
“I’m not surprised,” Fowler said today. “I’ve been expecting this to happen. It’s going to be devastating. I feel sorry for all the people who are going to be affected … families and businesses.”
Closure of the Union City Goodyear plant has been anticipated ever since the 2009 labor agreement lifted the plant’s protected status. The actual timing of Thursday’s announcement did catch many off guard though.
Apparently, however the Thursday announcement from Goodyear didn’t take everyone by surprise. The local plant’s newsletter, “UC Today,” that was released Thursday had complete coverage of the Goodyear announcement.
The plant newsletter included a column from plant manager Terry Tennyson directed to plant associates about the Goodyear announcement.
The two-page newsletter was dedicated to the company’s closure announcement.
Reaction to Thursday’s Goodyear announcement came quickly as word spread throughout the community.
“When I heard the news this morning I was devastated, not only for our city but for surrounding cities,” Kenton Mayor Virginia Davidson told The Messenger Thursday.
As the recently elected mayor of Kenton, Mrs. Davidson is concerned about the Goodyear announcement’s impact on her town.
“We were already in trouble (financially) and now we’ve heard of the Goodyear closing. It just made me sick,” she said.
The Kenton mayor’s comments will resonate for other towns across the county who are struggling with financial issues and have relied on the Union City Goodyear plant’s economic impact on the region.
Her reaction to the Goodyear announcement came as a city official and as a parent. Mrs. Davidson’s son, Jimmy Davidson, has been working at the plant for the past 10 years, she said.
From The Messenger’s Facebook page, Gail Easley Burdette posted, “Devastating news to all of us who have family working there & to the entire area.”
Hers was one of many comments posted on The Messenger’s Facebook page.
Martin resident and Goodyear retiree Don Jones has been one of the most vocal concerning the closure of the Goodyear plant.
“I felt like I beat a dead horse to death,” Jones said Thursday. “I told my wife that I have cried. I have cussed. I have gotten so upset by this issue.
“I was amazed that I couldn’t get any interest on the issue from anywhere. At one point, I thought I was the only one who cared about whether this plant shut down or not,” Jones said.
He estimated the plant’s closure would ultimately affect 5,000 to 7,000 people.
“This is their livelihood,” Jones said. “It is just terrible to see this plant close.”
Staff reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 2.11.11

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