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Texas plant prepares for Goodyear fallout



Published: Fri, October 13, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



TYLER, Texas (AP) -- The tire makers walked off the plant on a Thursday, Earl Raibon started looking for new work the next morning and Nikki Yordy rushed to schedule her surgery for the following Monday.

In this usually easygoing East Texas hub, the specter of Goodyear Tire & amp; Rubber Co. shutting down its Tyler factory and stripping the region of 1,000 scarce high-paying manufacturing jobs -- most of which start at 20 an hour -- has stirred anxiety since union members went on strike Oct. 5.

City officials, fearful of losing one of Tyler's largest employers, hurried to present Goodyear a 12 million incentive plan to keep the 44-year-old plant running.

Strike

Younger workers without enough savings to endure a lengthy strike are scrambling for a dwindling number of blue-collar jobs available in this slowly transforming region. Meanwhile, their families are scheduling dentist visits and doctor appointments before health benefits expire in January.

"We know there is insurance this week," said Yordy, 34, the wife of a tire maker who sat in her hospital bed after undergoing what she described as an elective procedure.

More than 12,000 workers at 16 U.S. and Canadian plants struck Goodyear after the Steelworkers union failed to reach an agreement on a new contract despite months of talks with the world's third biggest tire maker. Bargaining has stalled and no new talks are scheduled.

In Goodyear's offer, the Tyler plant and another in Gadsen, Ala., weren't on the company's list of "protected" factories. In Tyler's case, its massive plant boasts benchmark efficiency but produces mostly poor-selling tires for passenger cars instead of the larger and more profitable models for SUVs and pickups.

At the United Steelworkers Local 746L Union Hall, a McDonald's-size building across the street from the plant, union leaders talk bitterly about overseas outsourcing and call the stalemate "America's fight." Out front, striking plant workers approach the receptionist about selling back unused vacation time in return for another week of pay.

Last paycheck?

On Tuesday, about 200 workers at the hall picked up what could be their last paycheck for weeks. Most wore mud-caked cowboy boots and stiff denims. The crowded parking lot was an ironic symbol as to why Goodyear has pegged Tyler's plant for possible closure: clusters of garish Texas pickups, hoisted on the big tires that Tyler doesn't manufacture.

Raibon, a 48-year-old electrician with six years seniority at the plant and two kids in college, was so busy looking for jobs Tuesday that he sent his wife to collect his last paycheck.

Belt shearer Marvin Hollingsworth, 55, compares a Goodyear pullout to a "bomb going off" in Tyler, while city leaders fighting to keep the plant open predict a more muted but still significant effect.

City leaders project an economic impact of 948 million dollars and another two jobs lost in the community for every one that disappears from Goodyear. Tyler has about 101,000 residents.

A Goodyear closing would claim the largest chunk from the city's work force since 1996, when two other plants laid off 1,800 factory workers.

The plant dodged closure in 2003 during the last round of negotiations, when Local 746L president Jim Wansley said the company slashed production by 1 million tires a year, cut about 100 jobs and made substantial concessions in benefits and retirement packages.

"Enough is enough," said Wansley. "This is it."




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