Saturday, May 15, 2004

Canton employer cutting 1,300 jobs

By Joe Milicia
The Associated Press

CANTON, Ohio - The Timken Co. plans to close three Canton bearings plants that employ 1,300 workers and shift most of the production to other U.S. plants.

Friday's announcement gave no timetable for the shutdown but it followed months of discussions between the company and union officials over how to make the plants, which are among the company's oldest, more productive.

"It's just all about being competitive," Timken spokesman Jason Saragin said.

The company said production at the three plants southeast of Akron has declined 27 percent over the last five years and closing the plants would improve its overall profitability.

Timken and its union must negotiate whether employees will be transferred to the company's other plants, Saragin said. One of the plants being closed was its first, built in 1901.

Timken's Canton-based steel operations are not affected by the decision. The company employs about 26,000 people worldwide.

In September, United Steelworkers of America officials said the company told workers that the three plants could close unless the company became satisfied with their competitiveness with manufacturers that produce similar products cheaper, many at operations outside the United States.

Timken told employees in a letter previously that the bearings plants needed to show improvement in customer response, lower plant costs and operating costs, and to focus more on production.

"We have been meeting with the union for more than eight months to discuss how to make our bearing operations competitive in our changing global marketplace," James W. Griffith, Timken's chief executive, said Friday. "We are disappointed that our talks with the union did not lead to the changes necessary to make these facilities viable."

Stan Jasionowski, president of Steelworkers Local 1123, which represents workers at all of Timken's Canton-area plants, said the company was overstating the nature of the talks with the union. He said that workers twice over the past few years have cut costs at the plant by 30 percent and increased production.

Timken appeared to be rebounding. The company doubled earnings to $28.4 million in the first quarter on record revenues of $1.1 billion as demand by industrial, steel and automotive markets increased by double-digit rates

In trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Timken shares were up 6 cents to close at $21.50.

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