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A steelworkers union is suing to block the sale of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s automotive group, contending that buyers must first negotiate labor contracts before any such sale can be arranged. The United Steelworkers of America, which represents four Cooper auto parts plants, filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, Ind. On Sept. 17, Cooper said it reached a $1.2 billion deal to sell the automotive unit, which made up nearly half of its total sales last year. The Pittsburgh-based union in its lawsuit said that a contract between Cooper and the steelworkers requires that the company can sell its four plants to owners that reach labor contract agreements before the deal is finalized. “We do not object to the sale of the plants as such,” said John Sellers, a union executive vice president. “We seek to block the sale only to preserve a meaningful opportunity for pre-sale bargaining.” Cooper spokesman Roger Hendriksen said in a statement Tuesday that the company believes labor negotiations between the union and the buyer before the sale would violate federal labor law. The company also said the sale agreement maintains current contract terms and “protected the employees and all Cooper-Standard unions.” The union represents about 1,500 workers at four plants — two in Bowling Green, Ohio, and one each in Auburn, Ind. and El Dorado, Ark. The Cypress Group, a New York-based equity group, and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners joined to buy Cooper-Standard Automotive, based in Novi, Mich. The unit, which had revenues of about $1.66 billion in 2003, makes fluid handling and body sealing systems. The cash deal was expected to be finalized by the end of the year. The Cypress Group said it plans to acquire the unit “with employees remaining employed, with all existing union relationships continuing, and with all existing Cooper-Standard labor contracts remaining in effect.” Cooper’s stock closed Tuesday at $19.80, up 8 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has more than 20,000 employees and 52 manufacturing facilities in 13 countries. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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