By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — A union fighting the closure of a Goshen factory and the move of its jobs to Mexico, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to stop the removal of equipment.
Members of United Steelworkers Local 9550 filed the lawsuit against Cequent Performance Products, which is part of the TriMas group, according to Mike O’Brien, director of Subdistrict 4 of the USW. The company notified the 400 union members Oct. 18 that it would decided by Nov. 19 if it will close the Goshen plant and move their jobs to Reynosa, Mexico.
But, according to union members Thursday, the company has been moving equipment and materials out of the plant.
“There’s a concern that even if we arbitrate the issue and win it, the equipment won’t be returned,” O’Brien said. “We don’t know if an arbitrator would force them to move equipment back. It would cost millions.”
O’Brien indicated the lawsuit is asking for a court order to stop the removal of the equipment while negotiations are continuing.
He said the union has been negotiating with the company about the closure but the company wanted a decision on any offers from the union soon. O’Brien said he has prior commitments on the West Coast in the coming days and cannot complete negotiations in the requested time. He asked that the company postpone the closure decision until the union can reach a decision on what to offer.
“It’s unlawful to put an artificial deadline on negotiations,” he said outside the Cequent plant Tuesday.
In addition to the lawsuit, O’Brien said the union will file charges with the Labor Relations Board accusing the company of “negotiating in bad faith.”
A TriMas spokesman said company officials did not have any comments on the lawsuit or closure decision as of Thursday evening.
But O’Brien had a lot to say, giving interviews to local media and mixing with the union members offering encouraging words and support.
From a prepared statement, O’Brien read, “The union has consistently stated that the company’s announced recommendation violates our mutual agreement. In the meetings we’ve had with Cequent, they didn’t believe that the union could provide enough relief to prevent the moving of our work out of the U.S.
“... Even though we are still bargaining and a conclusion has not been reached, Cequent is moving parts and equipment out of the plant. Twice we have asked them to cease and desist this activity until a conclusion is reached. A request that has gone completely ignored.”
O’Brien quoted the three-year contract the union has with Cequent that states, “During periods of layoffs or reduced hours the company shall not contract or outsource work customarily performed by the bargaining unit, provided the work can be performed by those employees.”
O’Brien and dozens of union members and supporters gathered near the entrance to the plant along Lincolnway East. In a brisk November wind, the protesters held up signs, waived American and union flags and got a lot of honks of support from passing motorists.
Inside, the first-shift workers stayed at their jobs making trailer hitches and other towing products for the company.
Tammy Schrock, a second-shift worker, braved the cold and waived a hand-lettered sign that said, “Don’t back down.”
Asked what the mood was inside the plant, Schrock said, “Depressed, kind of — down. But they’re trying to stay hopeful.”
O’Brien classified the company’s move to Mexico as corporate “greed.”
“This is a plant that made $32 million in profit,” O’Brien said. “That’s not sales, that’s profit. They just want to make more profit. And they can do that south of the border and that is symptomatic of why this economy is doing as poorly as it is.”
Local 9550 vice president Deb Hathaway said that in September company officials met with union representatives and talked about the company’s profitability. “They told us how well we were doing,” Hathaway said.
She said until recently the company was hiring welders for the plant. “We feel now they were stockpiling. That’s all they were doing,” she said.