By BridgeNews Citing slower demand and excess tire production in the United States, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. says it may shut down its Decatur, Ill., plant, which employs 1,500 workers, by the end of the year. The facility produced the Wilderness AT tires that have been the subject of a massive recall and the source of a heated battle between the tire maker and Ford Motor Co. "While we are encouraged by the response of our customers to our commitment to rebuild the Firestone brand, our tire plants are not running at capacity due to a number of factors, including customer demand and an economic downturn," says John McQuade, division vice president of manufacturing operations. Bridgestone/Firestone said that closing the plant was the best solution to putting production levels in line with lower demand. The company said consumer demand across the tire industry is down 5% this year and commercial demand for new tires is down as much as 20%. As a result, several of Bridgestone/Firestone's plants are running at reduced capacity. The Decatur plant currently is producing about 15,000 tires per day, about half of what it makes at full capacity. Bridgestone/Firestone operates six other plants in the U.S., and the Decatur plant accounts for about 10% of its total capacity. Shutting down the Decatur operations will generate $100 million in annual savings, the company reported. Reacting to the news, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) said it will meet with Bridgestone/Firestone to seek a way to keep the Decatur plant operating. The USWA said the decision to close the plant is not irrevocable and is subject to negotiation under the USWA contract. "We just negotiated a labor agreement last year," says USWA International President Leo Gerard. "The contract provides a six-month closure notice to enable the parties to have time to discuss alternatives and see if the shutdown can be averted. It also has some very strong protections for potential retirees and workers who might be laid off."