By LOU WILIN - On the eve of a trial seeking to force Apollo Tyres to complete its purchase of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Cooper Tire said it has reached a deal with the United Steelworkers union.

By LOU WILIN - On the eve of a trial seeking to force Apollo Tyres to complete its purchase of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Cooper Tire said it has reached a deal with the United Steelworkers union.

The agreement has not been ratified by unionized Cooper Tire workers.

Cooper Tire basically conceded some union demands for "financial gains" and guaranteed the Findlay plant will remain viable, said Rod Nelson, Local 207L president.

Cooper's unionized plant in Texarkana, Ark., already has guarantees of its future viability in its existing contract, Nelson said.

The newly proposed labor agreement also includes a three-year contract extension through March 3, 2020, Nelson said.

Cooper is demanding that Apollo, which is obligated by the terms of its buyout agreement to help resolve union disputes, sign off on the agreement with the union, according to documents filed in a Delaware Chancery Court.

Apollo dismissed the labor agreement announcement as a last-minute stunt.

Cooper Tire and Apollo are due to begin the trial today. Cooper is asking a judge to force Apollo to complete its purchase of Cooper.

Cooper has claimed that since the $2.5 billion purchase was announced in June, Apollo has been looking for excuses to get out of it. One of its allegations is that Apollo has been stalling labor talks with the union as a way to avoid closing its purchase of Cooper without paying a $112.5 million penalty.

An arbitrator in September suspended Apollo's purchase of Cooper until it reached a labor agreement with unionized workers at tire plants in Findlay and Texarkana.

A labor agreement between Apollo and the union is not the only obstacle to completing the sale of Cooper to Apollo, however. Unionized workers at a Cooper Tire plant in China have locked out top Cooper officials and withheld the plant's financial information to protest the buyout. Apollo has said lenders will not release money to finance the sale until the financial information is available.

Cooper Tire's leaders, however, believe that with the labor agreement, they have taken a critical step toward getting the deal done.

"Cooper intends to establish at trial that Apollo is required to consent to the new (labor) agreement," a Cooper attorney stated in a court filing. "Cooper also intends to show that Apollo's other excuses for not consummating the (purchase) are lawyer-generated pretexts, and are without merit."

Apollo accused Cooper of trying to use the agreement announcement to unfairly change the court case.

"After more than 230,000 pages of documents have been produced, 18 witnesses have been (questioned under oath) ... Cooper is now abusing that privilege by trying to change the case," an Apollo attorney stated in a court filing.

Apollo said Cooper appeared to take "extraordinary steps" to induce the union agreement. The agreement "contemplates improvements in the (union) contracts even if this (purchase of Cooper) is not consummated -- something never contemplated by the parties, never requested by the (union) in its discussions with Apollo and not required by the (arbitrator's decision)," Apollo said in a court filing.

"Cooper purported to change this case into one focused on whether Apollo is required to agree to this last-minute agreement, a matter that has not been (explored by Apollo) at all," Apollo's attorney said. "Changing the case at this late date ... is abusive."

"If the parties are not going to try the claim Cooper pled, the appropriate course is to stay this action to allow the parties to reach a commercial solution ... an actual consummation of the deal, which Apollo has sought all along," Apollo's attorney said. "If that fails, a trial on a damages claim can be scheduled."

Wilin: 419-427-8413 Send an e-mail to Lou Wilin

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