By LINDA WOODLAND
FOR THE COURIER
FOSTORIA — When Bob Teeple, president of UAW local 533, sat down Friday to negotiate the next contract with Autolite officials, the last thing he expected was to be told the Fostoria plant is closing.
“Basically, they came in and said they are going to close the place,” the union president said.
Now, instead of negotiating a contract concerning wages and benefits, Teeple will be trying to work out the best deal he can for the 56 remaining workers and 27 retirees still under the reign of Autolite, a FRAM Group owned by the Rank Group.
“We have to negotiate a closing agreement. We might get another six months out of them,” Teeple said Sunday evening.
According to the union’s contract, the company has to give a 90-day notice before closing the plant’s doors for good, he said.
“I’m still in negotiations right now. We’re trying to negotiate some type of closing agreement. How it’s going to work. There’s a lot to talk about yet.”
Teeple places some of the blame for the plant’s demise with approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.
He said pro-NAFTA leaders had promised that the agreement would result in more manufacturing jobs for Americans. But that has not been the case.
“Look at Fostoria, it’s empty,” Teeple said.
In the mid-1990s, the Autolite plant at 1600 N. Union St. employed about 1,000 workers. By 2007, that number was reportedly 650 workers, and employment has continued to drop since then.
Mayor Eric Keckler said he was not surprised by Autolite’s plan to close after the company called Friday and asked for a police presence to stand by while they made an announcement.
“It’s a sad day. That company has been here in one form or another for a long, long time,” the mayor said of the manufacturer that produced its first spark plug in Fostoria in 1936.
“I know we’ve reached out to them from the very beginning, even before I was elected, to see if there was anything we could do to help them in any way and we got no response from them.”
Autolite has passed through several hands in the 81 years it has been in production in Fostoria.
According to its website, Autolite was purchased by Ford in 1961, then it was purchased by Bendix in 1973. In 1983, the Allied Corporation acquired Bendix. In the 1983 merger, the three brand names FRAM, Bendix and Autolite became part of Allied Automotive. FRAM was part of Honeywell’s Consumer Products Group until 2011. FRAM Group is now owned by Rank Group.
The FRAM Group consists of two businesses: Autolite and FRAM Filtration.
Keckler said the city still wants to do everything it can to help Autolite stay in Fostoria.
“The offer is still open. My understanding is they are here until possibly March and if there’s something we could do, or through FEDC, I know they’d be willing to bring in and try to do whatever we could do to keep them here,” he said.
“We want to keep those jobs here in Fostoria if we can.”