11/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ohio's Rough Road

When news outlets report job losses and unemployment, it's easy for us to focus on abstractions. Especially when we are talking about the impact of George W. Bush's failed economic and trade policies, because the numbers are huge. But it's not about numbers -- it's about how the poor economy plays out for actual workers and their families. Consider what's happening at Cooper Tires, a 90-year-old company based in Findlay, Ohio.

Cooper Tires recently announced that it's likely to close one of four manufacturing plants in Findlay; Texarkana, Arkansas; Tupelo, Mississippi; or Albany, Georgia, due to "surplus capacity." Bottom line: Per corporate execs, the company's profits aren't high enough, so they'll shut down one plant and get more work out of the ones that remain. And here's the kicker: Cooper will decide by December 1 which plant to close based on which cities offer it the best deal of tax breaks and other incentives to stay.

The economy has no doubt affected Cooper Tires' sales. But tough times call for creative solutions, not this. No company should force communities to compete over who's going to keep good jobs that working people need. We should be working together to make America more competitive so that we all win, not forcing communities to vie for a piece of the dwindling pie.

What Cooper is doing to its employees is insulting -- and heartless. Imagine working for Cooper and waiting to find out whether your plant will close in a few weeks. The holidays are right around the corner and you don't know whether you'll be standing on the production line or the unemployment line in the new year. The worry is hard enough and the reality is so much worse. That's just not fair to the men and women who have stood with the company in good times and bad during its 90 years in business.

I wish I could say that Cooper Tires is an anomaly, but they're not. During the Bush years, too many companies have gotten the green light to disrespect workers and ship jobs overseas, or force communities to dig deep to give tax breaks. Often the tax breaks entice the company for a year or two, and then they close their doors anyway.

In Ohio, 240,000 jobs have disappeared since 2001. Joe Rugola, an AFSCME International vice president and president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, has been on a 300-mile "Road to Economic Recovery" walk across his state to spotlight how hard hit Ohio's families have been during the Bush years. Our union called attention to Joe's walk in an ad we placed last week in USA Today, and I was proud to join Joe on his journey yesterday in Findlay, where we also talked with reporters about the impact of Cooper's possible closing.

Joe is reminding us that when a plant closes down, it hurts real people and the victims are our family members, friends and neighbors. And he's also reminding us that this election is not about politics -- it's about priorities. We've had a president with the wrong priorities for eight years. We need a President who will stand with the workers who build this country at home and fight for it abroad.

It's time for a president who's committed to America's working families, who will fight to rebuild the middle class, and who won't stand for communities being devastated by plant closings and workers being treated this way.

It's time for workers and their families to come first.