AKRON-The United Rubber Workers narrowly rejected the proposed master contract agreement with Goodyear May 4, forcing both sides to return to the bargaining table. That same day, the URW and Groupe Michelin-owned Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. reached a tentative agreement that basically follows the pattern settlement, though with some differences.
But talks at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.-the other firm involved in the master contract process-were broken off May 4 due to a lack of progress, company officials said. They were scheduled to resume May 16.
Five of the nine Goodyear locals covered by the master agreement, including three of the four tire plants, voted against the settlement. Local 12 at the Gadsden, Ala., tire facility cast the deciding vote, turning down the agreement 1,810-107 during balloting May 4.
The agreement needed approval by a majority of the nine locals representing a majority of the 12,200 Goodyear workers covered by the master contract.
Workers were concerned with the consolidation of health coverage into one plan, meaning union workers would be forced to pay some deductibles, local union officials said.
The union also didn't like an item dubbed the ``95-point system'' that concerned health benefits for future retirees.
When a worker retires, the system would add up the person's age and years of service. For each number under 95, the retiree would pay for 2 percent of health care premiums.
Negotiations were to resume the week of May 9, and both sides remained optimistic a settlement could be reached without a strike.
The agreement with Uniroyal Goodrich was reached May 4 during talks in Clarksville, Ind., and ratified May 9 by workers at the company's Fort Wayne, Ind., tire plant.
The contract, which would cover 5,200 union members at three U.G. Tire plants, still needs the approval of one of the other two sites-in Opelika and Tuscaloosa, Ala.-where balloting was to have been completed by May 16.
Kenneth Walters, president of the Tuscaloosa local, said U.G. Tire employees are unhappy with the tire maker's offer, which asks for concessions including:
Authorization to implement 12-hour shifts and seven-day work weeks at all its plants;
Initiation of a health care plan that limits benefits and choice of physician.
Frank Parks, president of Local 7, covering Bridgestone/Firestone workers in Akron, said BFS factory workers also have been asked to accept various concessions, including health care co-payments.
Bridgestone/Firestone insists the agreement addresses ``major areas of competitive disadvantage'' in its current contract, a company spokesman said.
Mr. Parks, however, maintained that the firm's plants have increased productivity and quality. ``If the people produce more-and they are and they will-they shouldn't make less.''
Despite current complications, some sort of pattern contract probably will emerge, said industry analyst Harry Millis of Fundamental Research Inc. in Cleveland. And that contract likely will have a total cost similar to the one Goodyear workers turned down.
Following the rejection of the Goodyear pact, Bridgestone/Firestone said it will negotiate its own deal with the union, but Mr. Millis said the company won't get a significantly different settlement.
``One company can't gain a significant advantage-and the union can't put one firm at a disadvantage-through the contract.''
Mr. Millis also still looks for an agreement to be reached without a strike, as neither side would benefit. ``...I'm not sure any of the major companies are in a position to take a strike for very long.''
As for the workers, he said jobs tend to get lost, particularly at the companies that are struck. ``I wouldn't want to be the guy who walked out.''
Marty Whitford in Akron also contributed to this report.