By LINDA WOODLAND
and MORGAN MANNS
Fostoria’s Autolite Spark Plug plant workers left the factory at 1600 N. Union St. for the last time Friday, putting a reported 62 people out of work.
The company reported the planned closing to the state Dec. 4.
Bob Teeple, former president of UAW local 533, said he found a job at Jeep in Toledo shortly after negotiating a closing agreement with the company.
“I thought they would be pretty tough but they (Autolite) actually gave us a pretty good deal,” he said, noting that deal included allowing employees to give two-weeks notice and still collect their severance package. In addition, the company is giving its severed employees six months of healthcare coverage.
“Hopefully that’s enough to carry them until they get something else going,” Teeple said.
“I hear there are a lot of them getting jobs and higher paying ones than they had at Autolite,” Teeple said. “And a lot of them have interviews set up for Monday.”
Teeple said he and former Fostoria Safety Service Director Allyson Murray met with Sherrod Brown Friday in a round-table discussion about NAFTA and what it did to the Fostoria plant.
Prior to her position with the city, Murray worked at Autolite. She spent nine years on the manufacturing line before landing a job as Autolite’s TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) coordinator. She was laid off from Autolite in December 2009.
“(Brown) found me after reading that article/documentary, ‘A small town in the middle of everywhere’ that appeared in the French magazine LeMonde,” Murray told the Review Times Friday. “Senator Brown wanted me to tell my story of how NAFTA impacted my life…. (Honeywell moving to Mexico.)”
After meeting with manufacturers, businesses, workers, and community leaders Friday, the news release states Brown will take their ideas back to Washington as negotiations on NAFTA continue.
“Time after time, we’ve seen corporate lobbyists writing trade deals behind closed doors, while American workers are locked out,” Brown said in the news release. “That’s how we end up with trade agreement after trade agreement that sells out workers. American jobs shouldn’t be up for negotiation, and American workers can’t be traded away as bargaining chips.”
“I was humbled to be asked to participate in the round table discussion today,” said Murray, who is now village administrator for North Baltimore. “I was very impressed with Senator Brown and his commitment to Ohio workers.”
“He has Fostoria on the map,” Teeple said. “We talked about all the good things Fostoria has going for it, its potential and the opportunities here if things could just get going.”
Teeple said President Donald Trump is also working for fair trade where NAFTA is concerned. He said Trump’s new tax plan is also benefiting businesses and driving the stock market, putting businesses in a better position to offer jobs at better wages.
Some workers leaving the plant for their last time Friday shared Teeple’s optimism.
“It’s time for a new chapter,” Patrick Ramirez, a 26-year employee, said. “This road has been very good to me and my family. I’m optimistic even at the age of 53. Challenges lie ahead but in God’s hands, everything will be OK.”
Others were not so sure about the future.
“We don’t know what’s next. Most of us were so close to retirement,” Roxanne Fetzer said, noting everyone had less than four years until that time. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
The 25-year employee stated some people will take advantage of the TRA (trade readjustment allowance) benefits while others will complete training.
Lee Shiley, a 25-year employee, said some people had other jobs lined up while others were going back to school to “take advantage of the trade.”
“It’s a sad day,” he said. “I’ve spent the last 25 years of my life here. Most of us had four years to go before retirement.”
In the mid-1990s, the Autolite plant employed about 1,000 workers. By 2007, that number dwindled to a reported 650 workers. Employment has continued to drop since then.
“I’m praying for Fostoria,” Teeple said. “This town is like a vault just waiting for people to put money into it.”