Autolite closing in Fostoria

Autolite officials plan to layoff more than 50 employees and shut down a plant in Fostoria.

Bob Teeple, president of UAW Local 533, said union leaders sat down with Autolite officials Friday morning to negotiate a new contract because the current one expires Nov. 1.

“We met to start negotiations,” he said. “They walked in and said they planned on closing the plant.”

At noon Friday, company officials informed employees of their plans.

Teeple said he was surprised.

“We started asking questions, but they couldn’t answer any questions,” he said.

He said the discussions would focus on a shutdown agreement.

Teeple said it wasn’t clear how long it would take to transition out the 56 hourly union workers, who make spark plugs and insulators.

“It could be the end of the first quarter,” he said.

Teeple said he took it as a threat when ownership said the timeline would depend on how well negotiations go.

“We’re trying to draft proposals that are competitive, that provide benefits to our employees. … It’s more than possible,” he said. “It’s just going to depend on how they proceed. They might have their mind made up.”

Teeple said part of the reason for the planned closure might be because of the cost to fix the building, located at 1600 N. Union St.

He said previous ownership mismanaged the business, leading to escalated costs and a need to recoup funds.

“They said they needed to take $10 million out of Fostoria,” Teeple said.

He said production was downsized and the plant, which had employed more than 1,000 workers in the 1990s, was downsized to 650 in 2009. Eventually, the company laid off workers, got down to 121 employees and continued to decrease.

Teeple said that recently, business had been improving and production was high.

“Things were going pretty well,” he said. “We were over-producing.”

Teeple said before negotiations Friday, leadership called back 12 people on a recall list. Six declined the offer and six quit jobs to rejoin the company.

“We are in a business where it’s very competitive and cut-throat,” he said.

“There are several players in the game. I don’t think it’s about the money. It’s more about us being union members in Fostoria, Ohio, and they are looking for more places to cut money.”

Teeple said the Rank Group, which owns the company, is known for buying businesses, making them more profitable and selling them.

He said there is a chance ownership is bluffing.

“(Maybe they are) really just trying to beat us down,” he said.

Because the contract expires Nov. 1, the transition timeline for the shutdown may not be dictated by the document, but Teeple said federal law states any business employing more than 50 people must provide a 60-day notice before laying off employees.

“So far, they haven’t provided any notice,” he said. “If they don’t do it, an individual or a group of us could file a lawsuit.”

Teeple said the situation is especially unfortunate because several employees are four years from retirement.

“We haven’t had any pension increases since 2006, so our pension with inflation isn’t a significant amount,” he said. “With that being said, for them to try and terminate our employment at this point … you’ve got people who have worked here for 26 years. A lot never worked at another place. To do that to us, who have put 26 years into the facility, the building, the product name, I think that’s a lot to ask for, I really do.”

Teeple said the union wants four more years.

“It really is an injustice,” he said.