Sen. Brown visits Cooper Tire employees in Findlay

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FINDLAY (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown spoke to locked-out Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. employees Monday, offering his help to end the contract dispute and expressing concern about the shrinking middle class.

Brown, D-Ohio, visited the United Steelworkers Local 207L Hall, 1130 Summit St., and spoke for about 20 minutes before meeting with individual workers.

Cooper locked out more than 1,000 unionized Findlay workers on Nov. 28, a day after union members voted down a proposed labor contract.

Negotiations between the union and Cooper Tire officials are scheduled to resume late next week, Local 207L President Rod Nelson said.

Brown said he hopes to help end the lockout by brainstorming with union members and showing a willingness to talk to Cooper management.

"People are eager to return to work," he said.

During his talk, Brown also cited the negative impact of an international market.

Companies have become more willing to move overseas, destroying local jobs, he said.

China, with its manipulation of currency and low wages, also tilts the playing field in its favor, Brown said.

That makes life much more difficult for middle-class workers in America, Brown said.

"It's clear the Chinese aren't playing fair," he said. A tariff on Chinese-produced tires expires in September.

Brown's visit was a big boost to union members, Nelson said.

"We've got a senator we elected who's in support of the middle class," Nelson said.

"The company's taken a hard-line stance from the very beginning," Nelson said.

Bob Schoonover, a Cooper employee of 31 years, said he was grateful for Brown's visit.

He said he wishes more politicians would speak out against the lockout.

"It's about the community. It's about the state. It's about the people," Schoonover said.

Kevin Rogers also said he credits the senator for stopping by.

Rogers, who has worked at Cooper for 11 months, said he qualifies for food stamps because of his relatively short tenure at the plant.

"It's back-breaking work," he said.

His wife has been laid off and the couple has three children, Rogers said.

"The city of Findlay is under the impression we're making a lot of money," Rogers said.

The lockout has had a significant impact on him and daily expenses are difficult, he said.

"But you know what, I'm not going to let Cooper keep me down," Rogers said.

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