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Dayton Tire Plant Ending Production

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) 37 years after the first tire rolled off the production line, Bridgestone/Firestone's Dayton Tire plant is expected to produce its last tire this weekend.

Bridgestone/Firestone said in July it would shutter its Oklahoma City plant with the loss of more than 1,400 jobs. The company blamed shifting consumer preference toward larger tires, as well as increased competition from lower-cost Asian import tires.

The factory will close next week after workers clean the facility and pack up equipment.

The first tire came off the line at Dayton on December 1, 1969. Plant manager Barry Owens said the last tire would be made sometime Saturday with curing set for Sunday. It should make its way to the warehouse by Monday.

``It's a difficult period for everyone, but as far as the work force is concerned, they've been extremely professional,'' Owens said. ``We've tried as a local management team to do what we can to help their transition.''

There are about 1,100 workers left at the plant, Owens said. The company eliminated more than 400 jobs in October.

Owens said the company, union and state officials have assisted workers with the transition, offering job fairs, benefit workshops, skills training and self-employment seminars. Employees also received extensions on their discount cards for Bridgestone/Firestone products through 2007.

Jim Cassie, president of United Steelworkers Local 998, commended plant managers for working with union officials on the transition.

``On that side of the equation, there's been very good cooperative efforts,'' Cassie said. ``It's difficult for our people right before Christmas, but our people are good people, and they'll do well.''

Still, the company and union remain at an impasse on negotiations for plant-closure benefits for Oklahoma City workers. Bridgestone/Firestone made an offer in early October and has been waiting for a counteroffer from the union, spokesman Dan MacDonald said.

Cassie said the union already had a proposal on the table not to close the plant, so it wouldn't respond to the company's October offer. Negotiations also have been stalled because the international union is busy with a 10-week strike at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.

``At some point, discussions will take place,'' Cassie said.

Under the current contract, Owens said workers in Oklahoma City could select from early retirement, full retirement or severance packages, depending on their years of service.

Medical insurance coverage is continued for two years, and hourly employees have preferential hiring rights at other Bridgestone/Firestone union plants.
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