The announcement late Friday afternoon means 46 members of Steelworkers Local 7 who build race tires for Bridgestone Americas' Firestone facility will be out of a job by either September or October. An additional 22 salaried employees also will lose their jobs, according to the company.
Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, owner of the iconic Firestone brand, said it ''mutually agreed'' with the Indianapolis-based IndyCar Series to end the Firestone brand sponsorship and supply contract at the end of the 2011 race season in the fall. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Firestone tires in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race.
''While this was a very difficult decision, it is in line with the company's goal of ensuring the long-term growth of its business and its brands, including Firestone,'' Bridgestone Americas said in a statement.
''This is devastating to the workers who will lose their jobs. It is just as devastating to the community,'' Bill Crooks, president of Steelworkers Local 7, said Friday. Most of the workers have from 12 to 15 years' experience, with hourly wages at about $20, he said.
The company gave the union six months' notice, Crooks said. ''It shuts down the entire race operations as far as the union is concerned.''
Crooks said he will be sitting down with company officials in the near future to discuss the upcoming shutdown of operations and settlement for the union workers.
Crooks noted that the Steelworkers lobbied hard to help persuade Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp. to build a new $100 million technical center in Akron to replace the current aging facility. The center is currently being built.
The new tech center will continue to provide hundreds of well-paying jobs, Bridgestone Americas spokesman Dan MacDonald said. The company appreciates the support the Steelworkers showed for the project, he said.
The Akron race tire facility was not protected from closure under the current Steelworkers contract with Bridgestone Americas. The facility made about 23,000 tires annually for IndyCar.
Bridgestone Americas indicated it was thinking of pulling out of IndyCar racing when it did not renew a contract with the race association by Dec. 31. Bridgestone Americas had been the IndyCar Series' sole tire supplier since 2000.
IndyCar issued a statement saying it was talking with other tire manufacturers about succeeding Firestone as the supplier for the 2012 race season.
The impending end of Firestone race tire production will leave Goodyear's race tire facility, which makes NASCAR tires, as the sole remaining major tire plant in Akron.
Bridgestone Americas and IndyCar this week realized they would not be able to come to terms and that it was in their mutual best interests to part ways, said Phil Pacsi, vice president for consumer marketing at Bridgestone Americas.
''It was a very difficult decision to do this,'' Pacsi said. ''We've had a long history with motorsports.''
The Firestone brand will remain a very important part of Bridgestone Americas, he said. The company intends to grow and reinforce the Firestone brand, he said.
Pulling out of IndyCar racing ''was really a strategic business decision,'' he said. ''Firestone is alive and well and strong.''
Bridgestone Americas said it will continue with plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500.
Firestone's long history with the Indianapolis 500 includes having tires on the very first winning car in 1911, a Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun. Both Bridgestone Americas and IndyCar noted that Firestone tires were on 62 of the 95 Indianapolis 500 race winners. Bridgestone and Firestone have used the Indianapolis 500 as part of their marketing, including the Firehawk Indy 500 consumer tires. Ohio.com