Lawmakers want protection for Cooper’s plant in China

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), with Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.), have asked U.S. diplomatic and trade representatives to help protect the interests of an American company, while dysfunction at a joint venture in China poses risks to U.S. jobs in Northeast Mississippi and elsewhere.

The lawmakers are among a bipartisan, bicameral group that sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Mike Froman urging them to address ongoing problems experienced by the Cooper Tire and Rubber Company at the U.S.-China Joint Committee on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) meetings. The Dec. 19-20 meetings in Beijing were chaired by Pritzker, Froman and their Chinese counterparts.

“We write today with deep concern about a serious issue Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is facing at its joint venture in China which has put the entire company at risk, including more than 5,000 jobs in the United States, and which has serious implications for all American businesses with interests and investments in China. We respectfully request your assistance in resolving this urgent matter,” the letter said.

Cooper Tire, with a Chinese partner, operates a joint venture factory in Shandong Province, China, that since June 2013 has experienced work stoppages and other actions that threaten the entire company.  Efforts to resolve the deteriorating situation have been unsuccessful.  The disruption has derailed the production process and forced Cooper to violate regulatory obligations, which could potentially have broad impacts on its U.S. operations and its 5,000 U.S. workers.  The company employs 1,300 workers at its Tupelo facility.

Additional excerpts from the letter state:

“Cooper has been facing a series of actions in violation of its rights as the majority owner of the joint venture…These actions have included, initially, two 5,000-employee work stoppages and, subsequently, labor actions including forced occupation of the CCT production facility; denial of access for Cooper and its appointed members of CCT management to the facility, financial data, and personal property; workers’ refusal to input financial and production data into CCT systems in accordance with internal operating procedure; workers’ refusal to produce Cooper-branded products; and the unlawful appropriation of company chops and registration documents.”

“In response to these actions, Cooper has requested assistance from Chinese government authorities at all levels, has appealed to local police, and has attempted to seek justice in local courts of law, but the situation continues. Cooper management has made multiple attempts to … reach a resolution. … At this point, the situation remains unresolved and Cooper has suffered considerable losses.”

The letter to the U.S. officials was spearheaded by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).  In addition to Cochran, Wicker and Nunnelee, the correspondence was signed by Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

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