Uncertainty lingers with Goodyear plant closing

Uncertainty lingers with Goodyear plant closing

While the news of the Goodyear-Union City plant closure did not come as a shock to retiree Don Jones of Martin, it didn’t lessen the emotional impact felt by Jones when he heard the announcement made by the company Thursday morning.

“I felt like I beat a dead horse to death. I told my wife that I have cried. I have cussed. I have gotten so upset by this issue,” Jones said in a phone conversation on Thursday. It was difficult for the retiree to hold back tears when he talked of how he had seemed to yell from the rooftops about the plant’s potential closure. 

Jones had advocated for the plant on his blog, www.secondchance.blogspot.com, since he retired from the local plant after 25 years of employment. He has written every elected official on the impact of the plant’s closure to the point of pleading for help from anyone who would listen. Those pleas were to no avail, according to Jones.

“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 admitted. Jones said one person even told him that he wanted the plant to close and leave Union City.

“I thought to myself, why would you say something like that. Why would someone wish people out of a job? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Before Goodyear came to Union City, Obion County was a poverty-stricken county. Who knows what will happen now,” Jones added.

Holding back his emotion, Jones stressed that the plant’s closure would have a far-reaching impact of negatively affecting 5-7,000 people – the plant’s workers as well as their family members.

“This is their livelihood. It is just terrible to see this plant close.”

The plant’s closure will push 1,900 into the workforce, according to the local plant’s communications director Clint Smith.

Smith is a transplant from Akron, Ohio and replaced Jimmy Cagle when he made the move to the Lawton, Okla. Goodyear.

During a press conference held Thursday afternoon at the Hampton Centre´, Smith was the only official from the company on hand with a prepared statement he used to deliver the news of the plant closure.

There were no Union City officials at the news conference that afternoon and the only elected official on hand representing Obion County was its mayor Benny McGuire.

State Sen. Roy Herron left Nashville to attend the conference. After the official announcement, Herron said that an economic nuclear bomb had been dropped on the region as a result of the factory closing.

“Goodyear has dropped an economic nuclear bomb on Northwest Tennessee, 1,900 working families and our whole region,” Herron said. The senator said that he was working with Gov. Bill Haslam to secure $7 million in state funds to match $13 million in federal funds to make the port and industrial park at nearby Cates Landing operational in order to attract manufacturing jobs. Herron is also asking Governor Haslam to make Interstate 69 a priority as a major transportation artery to draw new industry to West Tennessee. 

“We must act quickly and boldly to fill the gaping hole that this plant closing will leave in our regional and state economy,” Herron said. “Our top priority must be helping put Tennesseans back to work.”

Smith told news media on Thursday that a closure date has not been set. He 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.

Although Smith said the local plant has had production progress, it still lagged behind other North American tire plants.

After a master agreement was reached in 2009 between the United Steelworkers and the North American Goodyear tire companies, Union City became the only plant “unprotected” from closure.

That same year, the local plant opted to “buy out” 550 associates between the ages of 53 to 55 with at least 28 years of service with the manufacturing facility. The buyouts were under a Phase 1 of the local contract. A second buyout was highlighted in the agreement as a part of Phase 2, which would offer 400 buyouts at $2,000 per year of service. Phase 3 of the contract states that in the event of an announced plant closure, employees would have the option of accepting a $25,000 lump sum one-time payment.

When asked what the future might hold for he and his wife, Mickey Dunlap of Martin said he was still unsure of what he will do after having 23 years of service at the local plant.

At 60 years old, Dunlap fears no one would be willing to hire him if he opted not to transfer to another Goodyear plant.

“The scary part is you don’t know if the transfers will be out there if you do re-locate Who knows if the other Goodyear plants will be hiring,” Dunlap said.

Fortunately, Dunlap added, him and his wife are in better financial shape than other employees recently hired in at the plant.

His main concern was being able to sustain medical insurance for he and his wife, Pat.

“It’s like we have been waiting for the bomb to drop. If I can’t get preferential hiring somewhere, my only hope is that I can find a job with good medical benefits at my age,” Dunlap noted.

Weakley County Commission Chairman and Economic Development Board member Jimmy Westbrook said on Thursday that he was “very saddened” by the news.

“This is a terrible blow to the people of Northwest Tennessee. There is no doubt about it that economically, Weakley County will take a blow,” Westbrook commented. He said the WCEDB CEO Ronnie Price has been working diligently trying to recruit industry into the region.

The plant is expected to be “completely shut down” by the end of this year, according to Smith.

It was Nov. 13, 1967 when Goodyear formally announced it was opening a plant in Union City, with production beginning in October 1968.

wcp 2/15/11

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