Cooper Tire To Close Georgia Plant

Tire maker says it will close its plant in Albany, Ga., the result of a capacity study of its four plants.

TEXARKANA, Ark. (AP) -- Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. said Wednesday it will close its plant in Albany, Ga., cutting 1,400 jobs.

The Findlay, Ohio-based company will keep open plants in Findlay; Texarkana, Ark.; and Tupelo, Miss. The tire maker and distributor, which had been conducting a capacity study of its four plants, announced the decision in a conference call.

Workers were told in October that the company was facing higher costs and shrinking demand, and that Cooper had to make a dramatic cut. The company embarked on a study of each of its plants, while the factories and their communities worked to provide Cooper with reasons to keep operating.

In Findlay, union workers voted to accept a pay cut. In Texarkana, the union voted to scuttle its current contract in favor of one in which workers would freeze salaries and make other concessions.

Texarkana has 1,400 workers, Findlay has 1,100 and Tupelo has 1,200.

Cooper said in a news release it would absorb $150 million to $175 million in restructuring charges and 50 to 60 percent of those would be non-cash charges. The company said it would save $75 million to $80 million each year after the closing, with some of the savings to be realized in 2009 as production moves to the three remaining plants.

Cooper Chief Executive Officer Roy Armes said the company has been hurt by lower-priced imports and by softening U.S. demand.

"This was a difficult decision and we regret the impact it will have on our employees in Albany and the surrounding community," Armes said. "The detailed study we performed was fair, objective, and conclusive that we needed to consolidate our capacity and close one of our U.S facilities. The government and community agencies were actively engaged and involved and offered a high level of support, but the final outcome was clear."

The company also told workers the three remaining plants would move to around-the-clock production, seven days a week, and that staff may be added. The company said it would take 12 months to close the Albany factory.

"Thank God that it's all over, and hopefully this industry will pick up and we can go forward," said David Boone, president of the Texarkana plant's Steelworkers Local 752L.

"We're happy, but we're sad at the same time. We hate to see anybody lose their jobs," Boone said. Boone said it was particularly difficult to compete against other union shops.

Union workers at Texarkana on Saturday voted 84 percent to 16 percent to adopt their new contract. The same workers went on strike for a month in 2005 over health benefits, returning to work after a narrow majority accepted the company proposal.

About a year later, Cooper Tire converted the factory to a "flex" plant, which trimmed the worker count from 1,900 and made the plant more adaptable to increases and decreases in production.

Boone said he expects the Texarkana plant to convert back to a continuous operation plant once work is moved from Albany. He said the plant will likely hire between 250 and 300 workers.

After the union met on Friday, Boone met with state and local officials about incentives that would be offered to Cooper. When contacted by The Associated Press, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe would say only that his office was preparing a statement.

On Wednesday, Boone said he was bound by a confidentiality agreement and couldn't discuss the terms. But he singled out the governor and the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce for praise.

"It's not often you hear a union leader thank a chamber of commerce, but I am," Boone said.

The company set a Jan. 19 deadline for announcing which plant would close. The Texarkana union contract becomes effective Jan. 20.

Workers at the Findlay plant overwhelmingly approved a contract last week that will cut their pay and benefits by $30 million over the next three years.

The move likely saved their jobs, said Rod Nelson, president of United Steelworkers Local 207L.

"We feel lucky, but our hearts really go out to the community and the families down there in Albany," he said. "There's nobody celebrating here."

About 1,100 people work at the Findlay plant, which is Cooper's oldest. It's also one of the largest employers in the northwest Ohio city.

In early trading, Cooper Tire shares fell 22 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $5.77.

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