Bridgestone/Firestone announces layoffs, reduction in non-recalled tire production

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. plans to lay off 450 workers at its Decatur, Ill., plant _ about 25 percent of the plant's work force _ and curtail tire production at its plants in LaVergne, Tenn., and Oklahoma City for 28 days.

The company said Tuesday that the moves are necessary because of a drop in demand for Firestone tires, to reduce an oversupply of non-recalled tires and to focus on the production of replacement tires.

In August, Bridgestone/Firestone recalled 6.5 million ATX, ATX II and Wilderness AT tires, most of which were standard equipment on the Ford Explorer. The tires have been linked to 119 deaths and 500 injuries in the United States.

``We are continuing to maximize production of replacement tires unabated,'' said John Lampe, chairman and chief executive of the tire maker's U.S. operations. ``Any slowdown will not affect the production of the replacement tires. We are making as many replacement tires as we can.''

The Decatur layoffs, effective Oct. 29, will be for an indefinite period, the company said. The plant, where many of the recalled tires were manufactured, will also curtail production for two weeks in December.

Inventories of non-recalled tires have increased because the company stepped up production earlier this year in anticipation of a strike, which was averted when the United Steel Workers of America and the company reached a contract agreement Sept. 21.

Bridgestone/Firestone said it is also seeing a decrease in demand for Firestone brand tires and a shifting trend in the market toward larger tires.

``This decision was purely based on the fact of inventory position vs. what Decatur produces,'' Lampe said. ``Decatur is still a very important part of our manufacturing base.''

Union leaders in Decatur predicted this possibility months ago, when Bridgestone/Firestone publicly stated most of the recalled tires were made at the Decatur facility.

At that time, Randy Gordon, vice president of the United Steelworkers Local 713, wondered aloud whether the company was setting up the Decatur facility as a scapegoat _ one troubled factory it could close to salvage its reputation.

Gordon and other Decatur union leaders could not immediately be reached Tuesday.

The Oklahoma City plant will be idled for 28 days between now and the end of 2000. The LaVergne plant near Nashville will produce about 7,000 tires a day during the first two weeks of slowed production and be idle another two weeks.

Decatur will produce 10,000 to 15,000 tires after the layoffs and also be idle for two weeks.

``This is an extremely difficult decision, not one that is any fun to make whatsoever,'' Lampe said. ``We wanted to tell our employees as soon as possible so they would know what was coming down the pike.''

Bridgestone/Firestone also operates plants at Akron, Ohio; Normal, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; Noblesville, Ind.; Russellville, Ark.; Morrison, Tenn., Wilson, N.C., and South Carolina.