Continental: 'We have done our best to reach an agreement'

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"We share in our employees' desire to keep jobs in Charlotte, and we have done our best to reach an agreement with the USW so that we can continue to produce tires here."

So said Rick Holcomb, a spokesperson for Continental Tire North America Inc., commenting on Saturday's demonstration in Charlotte, N.C., by the United Steelworkers (USW).

"However, the Charlotte plant must be globally competitive with other Continental tire facilities. As CTNA informed the USW last October, the Charlotte facility is the highest-cost facility within Continental's global organization, and to make this facility globally cost competitive, we would have to reduce our manufacturing costs by $32 million annually.

"Since then, we have met with the union more than 20 times and presented nine different proposals on how to achieve the $32 million in manufacturing cost reductions. Even with these reductions, CTNA employees would still earn very competitive wages and benefits among manufacturing workers in our area.

"CTNA is not alone in feeling the impact of globalization," he said. "The fact is, the whole U.S. automotive industry is in a crisis. Some of our major customers have even announced they are undergoing substantial restructuring in their North American operations.

"Like others, CTNA continues to face skyrocketing costs for raw materials, energy and health care, and our manufacturing facilities face increased global competition.

"We had hoped that the union would understand the gravity of the situation and that we would have reached an agreement by now. Unfortunately, the union has so far rejected all of these proposals and offered no other alternative to achieve the necessary manufacturing cost reductions."

(The current labor contract between the two parties expires at midnight Sunday, April 30. The union has authorized its members in Charlotte to strike if an agreement is not reached before expiration. Continetal has said it will indefinitely suspend tire production in Charlotte this September if its demands are not met by the union.)

"We are now down to the wire, but we are still holding out hope that the union will work with us and we can reach an agreement," summed up Holcomb.

The USW rallied to protest what it calls "destructive policies" at the company's Charlotte consumer tire plant. (See "Steelworkers to demonstrate at CTNA HQ," April 28, 2006.)

According to an article in today's Charlotte Observer, "hundreds of Continental workers, retirees and union members from other states" rallied outside the Charlotte plant.

It was reported that one employee wore a T-shirt displaying the words "Continental: Running over working families." He and others in the audience chanted "No contract, no peace."

The $32 million in manufacturing cost reductions requested by Continental "would reduce pay and wages some 35%, strip retirees of health care benefits and allow the company to operate in Charlotte with wages far less than what is paid to any other workers at major tire producers anywhere in North America," say union officials.

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