DUARTE, Calif.-Members of the Goodyear Independent Dealers Association voted ``overwhelmingly'' to proceed legally against Goodyear to settle disputes over perceived inequities in the tire maker's treatment of dealers, compared with other distribution channels. Officers and directors of the association declined to comment on the possibility of a lawsuit, but an April 24 letter GIDA sent to inform members of actions taken during its April 9 general meeting stated the group's ``legal counsel...recommended that we go forward immediately since time is of the essence.''
A Goodyear spokeswoman said the company had not been notified, as of May 26, of any class-action suit filed against it in California.
If filed, the lawsuit would seek damages for lost tire sales dealers in the area allegedly have suffered since Goodyear signed Discount Tire Co. as a distributor in January 1993, according to Cactus Tire Inc. co-owner Don Bender, a Goodyear dealer in Phoenix who attended the April 9 GIDA meeting.
The suit would also attempt to reconcile policy differences between the dealer association and the tire maker, according to Mr. Bender.
The GIDA board, in a letter to its members last August, had spelled out its areas of concern, including:
The assurance of future options and pass-through values of leases;
The need to eliminate productivity clauses in leases that make rental rates contingent upon meeting quotas for tire purchases;
Goodyear's alleged failure to disclose to dealers its intentions to form distribution agreements, including those with Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Discount Tire, thus preventing dealers from taking steps to ensure they remained competitive;
Alleged unfair pricing and inventory allocations that benefit only large retailers; and
Goodyear's alleged failure to recognize its legal responsibility to remove underground gas storage tanks.
Mr. Bender said he believes the 100-member association is most upset about Goodyear's decision to begin distributing its tires through Sears and Discount Tire.
Days after the board expressed its concerns in the August letter, Al Eastwood, vice president of replacement sales in North America, stated in a letter that Goodyear had given dealers information on ``significant policy changes,'' including the advantages of productivity standards and the decision to review secondary supply point charges in some districts on a monthly basis.
Goodyear ``takes very seriously its responsibilities under the laws governing underground storage tanks'' and ``will comply with all laws,'' Mr. Eastwood stated, adding that ``the other areas of concern listed in the GIDA letter were too vague to warrant a response.''
During the association's April general meeting, which was held in Palm Springs, Calif., attorney John L. Fitzgerald of the Burlingame, Calif.-based law firm Cotchett, Illston & Titre, explained to association members that the suit would be filed only in California because that state ``has some of the best laws to go at cases like this,'' according to Mr. Bender.
But Mr. Bender said he and others were trying to collect about 30 Goodyear dealers in Arizona to form their own organization that would file a similar suit against the tire maker, even possibly using the same law firm. That organization, he noted, would not be formed until later this year.
Mr. Fitzgerald did not return repeated phone calls.
During the April meeting, GIDA President Joe Jubela announced that he had completed a deal to sell his Express Tire outlet in San Diego to Goodyear. The board, however, unanimously voted to allow Mr. Jubela to finish his presidential term, set to expire in 1996, according to board member Dick Leevers, owner of Long Beach, Calif.-based Rainbow Tire & Service Inc.
Mr. Jubela did not return phone calls.
Last August, the GIDA polled Goodyear dealers in California, asking whether it should file the lawsuit and asking for monetary donations to support such an action. In its recent letter to members, the association again asked for financial support and noted that a majority of those at its general meeting agreed to support possible legal action each with $2,000 donations.