Local, state and national union leaders and about 80 faithful rallied Tuesday at United Steel Workers Local 207L, urging Cooper Tire to keep its Findlay plant open.
The company last week said it will likely close a plant in Findlay; Albany, Ga.; Texarkana, Ark.; or Tupelo, Miss., in the next few months.
Local 207L President Rod Nelson told the crowd Cooper's announcement did not surprise him.
“We know there is an overcapacity in the market here with imports (of tires) on the rise coming from China and Mexico,” he said.
But what bothered him was the way the announcement was made.
“It is very upsetting that we have got to compete with another union plant, which is Texarkana. Not only that, but two other tire plants,”
Nelson said. “It is a shame it has come to that.”
Cooper plans to produce fewer tires in the United States and more in countries where wages are lower.
“What that means is we are going to lose jobs here in the United States,” Nelson said. “We need some help. We just cannot compete with the low wages they have got over there in China. Cooper now is putting money in a facility in Mexico ... (company leaders) are dead set on shutting down a (U.S.) plant and increasing those imports.”
Others said the Cooper situation is part of a trend in which companies have transferred millions of jobs to other countries in recent years.
“What is happening at Cooper Tire is kind of an indication, kind of an example of what is happening and what has been happening across our country for eight years, maybe even a little longer,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees International.
“NAFTA and CAFTA (the North American and Central America free trade agreements) and the workers got the shafta, and that is what it was all about,” McEntee said.
Cummins Filtration employee Tom Molyet, who is president of UNITE HERE Local 1812 in Findlay, also criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“We cannot compete with China on a level playing field ... We are losing more and more jobs,” Molyet said.
Fifty-one employees at Cummins' Findlay plant are temporarily laid off, he said. Cummins makes in-tank fuel filters for the automotive industry.
“We have a factory in China and we have one in Brazil, and the constant threat is always there (that) we are going to lose our jobs because they can do it over there for less money,” Molyet said.
Besides the lower wages, other countries offer another unfair advantage: less environmental regulation, he said.
Union leaders touted Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as the one to keep more jobs in the United States. In the Senate, Obama has voted 100 percent of the time for American workers, McEntee said.
“That is the place we want to be in,” he said to cheering and applause. “That is the place we want to go to. That is the America we want to go to.”
Mike Carroll, Democratic candidate for U.S. representative of the 4th Congressional District, said he would fight to keep jobs in the United States.
“I am not a politician,” said Carroll, a steel worker from Mansfield. “I am an average American worker, one who is fed up with the direction this country is going.”
“I want to be a voice for American families. I want to be a voice for American workers,” Carroll said. “Too often we elect and send to Washington professional politicians. They do not live with the fears we live with every day. They do not live with the fear of their job being cut, or plant or business shutting down ... I know what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it is like to live with the fear of losing your insurance.”