Today, the fate of some 450 jobs in Goshen was in the hands of attorneys from Chicago and Indianapolis.
When Cequent Performance Products announced plans to close its Goshen plant and move the work to Mexico— workers vowed to challenge the move in court.
Today those workers had their day in court in U.S. District Court in South Bend.
“I’m really happy and pleased today because I feel that the union has won, we won the right now to go to arbitration,” said President Deb Hathaway of United Steelworkers Local 9550. “And he (the judge) is going to give us his decision next week on whether they’re going to stop them from moving things out of the plant, so I’m actually happy.”
The judge did rule, over the company’s objections, that an arbitrator would hear the union’s claim that Cequent is contractually obligated to keep the plant open.
The judge hopes to rule next week on an injunction request that would prevent Cequent from moving equipment or laying off workers for the duration of the arbitration process.
“Next month we're going to have 129 people laid off and so that why we wanted to get this court date, and get this so that they could stop things, which would mean they would stop the layoff for February,” said Deb Hathaway.
Meantime, attorneys for Cequent warned that any delay in the move to Mexico could do more harm than good for the Goshen community at-large. Cequent has found a company that is interested in sub-leasing the entire plant—once Cequent moves out. Today in court, that company was identified as Lippert Components.
“There is a local company that may be interested in filling that building,” said Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, who testified at the hearing today. “That’s probably the biggest manufacturing building in Goshen, so it will be good to get it filled, but it won't be filled with as high paying jobs I think as what we're losing.”
Mayor Kauffman testified that the loss of Cequent would reduce local income tax revenues by some $330,000 per year.
Today’s hearing was five hours long and featured six witnesses, despite the fact that Cequent attorneys had argued that the hearing should not have taken place at all.
Even if the union won every single court battle, that would only keep Cequent in Goshen until the contract expires in March of 2014.
The union hopes that public pressure may force the company to stay in town for the long haul. “And certainly we haven't abandoned those efforts, nor have we abandoned the efforts of getting the public behind the idea that American jobs are important, moving American jobs offshore so a few greedy people at the top can make more money, is not the American way,” said Michael O’Brien, Sub District Four Director for the United Steelworkers Union.