AKRON-Management at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear have presented their views on failed master contract talks directly to employees. The two companies' tacks, however, drew opposite responses from the United Rubber Workers-related, in part, to the differences in the negotiations thus far.
At Bridgestone/Firestone, contract talks were suspended May 24, the second time negotiations have broken off without any progress toward an agreement.
On the other hand, Goodyear has twice reached agreement with URW leaders on a new contract, only to have the proposals voted down by rank-and-file workers.
Bridgestone/Firestone sent a letter May 26 to each of the 4,200 employees at its six master contract plants explaining why they had broken off talks with the URW two days earlier.
The letter-signed by Charles R. Ramsey, vice president of human resources-said the company thought the union was spending too much time trying to get a contract ratified with Goodyear and not enough effort focusing on the needs of Bridgestone/Firestone.
``To date, the union's stated goal is to achieve a Goodyear `pattern' settlement with BFS without addressing the competitive disadvantages that BFS faces in competing with `pattern' and non-`pattern' tire companies in the marketplace,'' Mr. Ramsey said in the letter.
He also outlined to workers how the company's cost is about $5 a tire more than the firm's competitors, while tire prices keep falling. The company claimed that, between 1986 and 1992, its wage and benefit costs increased faster than productivity by 45 percent at its Decatur, Ill., tire plant; 35 percent at Oklahoma City; and 5 percent at Des Moines, Iowa.
``The bottom line is: We have a compelling need to change our competitive position in the marketplace,'' Mr. Ramsey said.
Bridgestone/Firestone also said it has begun to make other changes, such as: investment in new technology; improvement in tires and customer relations; and reductions in operating costs and the number of salaried employees.
The pattern settlement-rejected by Goodyear workers-did not meet Bridgestone/Firestone's needs and would add more than $2.50 to the cost of each tire, Mr. Ramsey claimed.
A URW spokesman called ``absurd'' Bridgestone/Firestone's allegation the union was not serious in its negotiations.
``This has been an odd round of negotiations in which they apparently want to rewrite the entire contract,'' he said. ``Unfortunately, since we thought we were building a relationship with the company three years ago, they've now turned around with this obstructive type of bargaining.''
At Goodyear, the company published May 31 in its ``Akron Daily Digest'' a question-and-answer session on contract talks with Chairman Stanley C. Gault and Mike Burns, vice president of human resources.
The article, which followed the second rejection by Goodyear locals of a contract proposal, said the latest offer would raise the tire maker's cost by more than 15 percent.
Mr. Burns said annual earnings of the 12,000 workers covered by the master contract would rise from their current average of $45,000 to a projected $49,000 in three years-using estimated gains for cost-of-living allowances.
Wages and benefits combined would rise more than $10,000 from the present average of $67,000.
Mr. Gault said that although Goodyear recently reported record first-quarter earnings, North America is the least profitable part of its tire business.
``We want to continue to make capital investments in our North American plants to keep them modern and efficient, but we cannot justify investments where the costs are too high to allow us to compete effectively,'' Mr. Gault said. ``Our associates must continue to grow in their understanding that our competition for sales is their competition for jobs.''
The URW spokesman said Goodyear's action was much different than the Bridgestone/Firestone letter.
``(Union officials) supported this tentative agreement,'' he said. ``(Goodyear) wasn't trying to negotiate anything. They just talked about what they felt about the agreement.''
No new talks have been scheduled with BFS, but URW negotiators are scheduled to resume talks with Goodyear June 16. In the meantime, union workers at both tire makers continue to work on a day-to-day basis.
URW members at Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. already have ratified a contract based on, but different from, the original pattern agreement negotiated with Goodyear.