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Bloomington layoffs necessary, says Bridgestone

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Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC ill lay off 67 hourly employees from its Bloomington, Ill., facility, effective March 1, 2009.

The company cites the "unprecedented decline in construction," and the subsequent decrease in demand for small and medium-size off-road tires, as the reason. "Production must be reduced in order to better align this inventory with demand."

"The dramatic downturn in the economy continues to plague every industry, including ours," says Shawn Rasey, president of Bridgestone Americas' OTR tire sales division in the United States and Canada. "Sales demand for off road tires began dropping in September 2008, the same time we began seeing a significant increase in inventory levels.

"We've made production reductions to accommodate the drop in sales - which have included eliminating discretionary overtime, reassigning teammates from parts of the plant hit by the economic slowdown to other areas of the plant, implementing a hiring freeze and cutting production days over the winter holiday - but unfortunately it hasn't been enough."

The decision was reached after serious consideration of all alternatives. Through natural attrition (e.g., retirements), the plant was able to avoid layoffs at the end of last year, even in the face of two major reductions in the plant's scheduled production.

(According to the 2009 Modern Tire Dealer Facts Issue, the Bloomington plant has the capacity to produce 250 OTR tires a day.)

The giant tire market has not yet experienced the same level of reduced demand as the small and medium OTR tire markets, according to Bridgestone. The recent addition of new curing equipment at the plant resulted in the addition of 40 jobs.

"While conscious of the current market volatility, we continue to take the longer view and invest in key segments to meet the demands of our customers," says Rasey. "As the economy recovers, we fully expect the giant tire segment to become stronger and require the output from our capacity expansion."

Employees directly affected by the layoff who meet state criteria are eligible for unemployment benefits from the state of Illinois. Those currently enrolled in the company's medical plan will have three months of coverage at the active rate and COBRA eligibility from that point forward.

Bridgestone added that as openings at the plant occur due to attrition, the company will fill those positions with "teammates who are affected by the March 1 layoff."

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