Michelin Expansion in Nova Scotia Draws Criticism from Ontario Workers - Tire Review Magazine

Michelin Expansion in Nova Scotia Draws Criticism from Ontario Workers

(Akron/Tire Review – Canadian Press) An expansion planned for a Michelin tire factory on the East Coast has exposed the company's long-term strategy to rid itself of unionized plants, says a union leader at an Ontario factory that was recently shut down by the French multinational.

The company, one of the world’s largest tire manufacturers, will announce the expansion of its non-unionized factory in Bridgewater, N.S., on Tuesday, along with a provincial contribution of between $3 million and $8 million, says a government source.

"There will be dozens of jobs created," said the source, noting that the cash will also help retain jobs at the factory.

The news drew an angry reaction from Paul Shrum, local president of the United Steelworkers in Kitchener-Waterloo, where 1,100 recently lost their jobs at the BFGoodrich plant, a Michelin subsidiary.

He argues the company’s decision to upgrade the Bridgewater plant, just weeks after the completion of layoffs in Ontario, is part of a trend at Michelin to favour non-union plants.

"I believe it’s an absolute shame what’s happening," he said in an interview. "There’s over 1,000 wage workers here in Kitchener who worked their butts off for the company . . . Unless someone takes them to task for this, there will be no unionized factories left in the Michelin chain."

A Michelin spokeswoman declined to comment on the union leader’s view.

However, the government source said Michelin should be praised for becoming a "signature Nova Scotia company."

About 1,100 people work at the Bridgewater factory, making steel cord for tires, as well as tires for passenger cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles.

"They’ve kept 4,000 workers employed in rural Nova Scotia," the source said. "Ontario unions shouldn’t be complaining when you have the federal government dumping millions (of dollars) into auto factories."

Nova Scotia’s governments have provided a steady stream of financial assistance to Michelin, which employs about 120,000 people in 170 countries.

In January, Michelin received $10.8 million in subsidies from Nova Scotia to help it upgrade its plant in Waterville, N.S.

At the time, plant manager Grant Ferguson said fresh investment is vital for survival in the tire industry. "It’s grow or die," he said.

Since 1969, Michelin has invested more than $1.3 billion in the three Nova Scotia plants.

The province has added money to many of the upgrades through job training and written-off loans.

In the 1990s, for example, the province forgave $47.5 million and committed $17.5 million for job training.

Michelin has a number of other non-union plants in South Carolina, as well as unionized factories that it bought from BFGoodrich in the early 1990s.

Despite what happened in Kitchener, the company recently signed three-year agreements with the United Steelworkers at the company’s two BFGoodrich plants in Alabama and one in Louisiana. The deal provides guarantees the multinational will invest in the unionized factories in America.

"They’ve committed to investing $100 million in new technology to enable our plants to produce some of the higher end, higher margin tires," said Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the international branch of the United Steelworkers.

"If you don’t get commitments to capital investment there’s no way you can remain globally competitive in the long run," he said.

"It should secure the future of the plants obviously on the short-term, and hopefully with a commitment to invest in these plants it should provide longer-term security also."

Unlike the plant in Kitchener, the plants in Alabama and Louisiana have not had major strikes since Michelin took over.

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