CUMBERLAND – For many of the workers who have spent more than a decade pressing a toxic exposure lawsuit against Goodyear, working at “the Kelly” was a family affair.
The Kelly-Springfield tire plant, which was bought in the late 1980s by Goodyear, was long one of the biggest employers in this scenic mountain city.
Former Kelly carpenter Wesley “Red” Bartlett worked at the plant for 26 years. His father worked there before him and his son worked there after him.
Webster B. Long III was a machinist at the Kelly, repairing equipment in all parts of the plant, including areas like the mill room where some workers believe they faced greatest exposure to dangerous chemicals.
Long’s widow, Leona, 78, worked in an office at the plant for several years, and one of their sons worked on the floor in summers during college, before the plant closed down in 1987.
“It was a good job,” Mrs. Long said, echoing the statements of other plaintiffs. “It paid well.”
But his family said Mr. Long’s seven-day-a-week schedule toward the end of his 42-year career at the Kelly exposed him all the more to the lampblack soot and soapstone dust in the air in several parts of the plant.
The air was so black that workers emerged as dirty as miners, said the Long’s son Matthew. He said that the company paid workers for hour-long showers at the end of the workday and that the collars of Kelly men’s white shirts would be dirty by the end of church on Sundays.
“You’d never get your clothes clean,” he said.
Matthew Long said workers used to play pranks with bags of dye, dropping the bags on top of elevators, causing the dye to spatter on the occupants. None of the Longs said they were provided with protective clothing.
A Goodyear spokesman declined to answer specific questions about the workers’ claims. Goodyear attorneys referred calls back to the company.
After her husband retired in 1986, “he kept getting sicker and sicker,” Mrs. Long said. “I think he really retired because he was feeling sick.”
Mrs. Long said the family decided to file suit after several plant workers died of cancer, including her husband’s cousin, who died at age 52. That was too young for his widow to receive retirement income from Kelly-Springfield, Mrs. Long said. The cousin’s widow sued Goodyear for toxic injury in 1982 with another group of workers and won an undisclosed settlement.
None of the plaintiffs in three other suits against Goodyear have won since.
Bartlett said he sued Goodyear to get them “to take care of everything that happened to me.” He has a partial pension but says Goodyear only pays a fraction of the family’s medical bills.
“I think Goodyear oughta pay all medical expenses for this,” he said.
Bartlett — who concedes that he smoked until recently — said he has had one cancer operation every two years, beginning in 1997. The 14-inch scar from a recent lung operation was still purple four months later.
“It’s sad that Goodyear would fight the people,” he said.
But while there is no love lost between the plaintiffs and their former employer, some ties are hard to break.
Bartlett’s son still works for Goodyear, testing tires in Akron, Ohio. And Mrs. Long still buys her tires at the Kelly-Springfield franchise in town.
“We get good discounts,” at the store, she said.