The news of Cooper Tire Plant closing in Albany has made for a solemn holiday season in southwest Georgia. I can’t go to the post office without having a gloomy conversation or two about the families involved—cousins, classmates, friends. If you read the past post on this blog, my writing implored south Georgia voters to declare Saxby Chambliss and Sanford Bishop our guys so they could focus on getting Cooper off the cropping block like Georgia members of Congress have kept our military bases safe. It turns out the fix could have been in from the start.
The Albany Herald Editorial Board wrote today (article found below) that Cooper Tires might have been “playing” south Georgia. They speculated that Cooper knew the Albany plant would close and they used the study period to entice sweeter deals from the other three plant cities—good business or dirty pool?
I am reading The Last Lecture by the late Randy Pausch—positive man who departed this life to soon. In his chapter “Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder,” Dr. Pausch wrote,” Too many people go though life complaining about their problems. I’ve always believed that if you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out.”
The Cooper employees are being dignified about their situation at this point but if they get to feeling down they can remember that Randy Pausch and many others would love to be in their shoes—this too shall pass.
Was closing inevitable?
Based on the information that has come out, it may have been the right decision for Cooper, though it is a devastating blow to a region that is already the ninth-poorest congressional district in the United States. Metro Albany’s unemployment is above the state average, and it’s guaranteed to trend upward as the layoffs progress in the shutdown process that will be completed by the end of December 2009. Southwest Georgia and its retail core of metro Albany are already struggling with the stagnant economy that is gripping the nation. Losing the half-billion dollars a year that Cooper meant to the regional economy will make the hole deeper and harder to climb out of.
What makes the already bad situation even worse for many is the suspicion that the decision was made long before the study was conducted.
In mid-November, The Albany Herald received anonymous correspondence from a source that purported to be Cooper employees at Findlay, Ohio. The letter bore a Findlay postmark. Verifying the contents of the letter was problematic, but in retrospect the contents proved to be remarkably prescient. “It is with a great degree of certainty that we know Cooper plans to close the Albany plant,” the letter stated. “Unfortunately, the facility study is a ploy to fleece the other states out of any financial assistance they can offer.”
If that was the strategy, it worked ideally for Cooper. In Findlay, Ohio, union workers at the Cooper plant voted to accept a pay cut. In Texarkana, the union voted to kill its contract and pass another one in which workers’ salaries were frozen and other concessions were made. Mississippi is giving Cooper $30 million in incentives to keep its non-unionized plant in Tupelo open. As soon as the last piece — the Texarkana plant vote last week — fell into place, Cooper’s board met and the decision to put Southwest Georgians out of work was made.
If the decision to close the plant was made completely on the merits, then, painful as it is, you have to accept it for what it is — a reasoned business decision. But if Albany’s workers never had a chance and were merely held out as human bargaining chips so Cooper officials could wrestle better deals at their other plants, that is contemptible.
And given the timing, the letter and the chain of events, there unfortunately is some reason to be suspicious.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board