WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) on Thursday asked President Bush (search) to step into a contract dispute that threatens to close an Ohio bearings plant where the president promoted his tax-cut plan last year.
Timken said last week it plans to close three bearings plants in the Canton, Ohio, area that employ 1,300 workers because of declining production. Workers claimed the company's management failed to negotiate with their union to lower costs and make the plants more competitive.
"The administration should exhaust every potential solution to prevent these jobs from being lost," Kerry said in a statement. "Federal mediation was created to help resolve situations exactly like the impending crisis in Canton."
With Ohio cited by many political analysts as an electoral prize — 20 votes, Kerry was putting Bush on the spot by suggesting he could intervene with Timken. Its chairman, W.R. Timken Jr., is a major donor and fund-raiser for the Republican Party.
The company manufactures alloy steel (search) and bearings for products from computer disks to oil rigs. No date was set for the closings, although employees said they had been told it could take two to three years. Timken plans to shift most of the Canton operations to other plants in the United States.
James W. Griffith, the chief executive officer of Timken, said talks with the union did not lead to changes that would make the facilities economically viable.
City officials said the closings by their biggest taxpayer will devastate their income taxes and damage their ability to provide services.
In April 2003, Bush visited one of the Canton plants and told workers, "There's too much economic uncertainty today." The president said that his tax-cut package would improve the situation.
The Timken closings are just the latest in a northeast Ohio area hit hard by the loss of manufacturing and other jobs.
While the northeast Ohio cities of Akron, Cleveland and Youngstown overwhelmingly voted against Bush in 2000, the Republican beat Democrat Al Gore in Stark County, home to Timken, by less than 2 percentage points. Bush won Ohio by 4 percentage points.