NASHVILLE, Tenn.- About 4,200 United Rubber Workers members at five Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. plants walked off the job July 12 in what is shaping up to be a lengthy strike. ``I'm afraid it will go on for a while,'' said Mike O'Connor, secretary of URW Local 7 in Akron. ``The company has not yielded in the last few months, so I don't expect them to yield in the next few days.''
Local 7 makes racing tires, machinery and other products. The three tire plants on strike include Decatur, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Oklahoma City. Workers also struck BFS' air springs plant in Noblesville, Ind.
A BFS spokesman said the firm anticipated no problem meeting customer demand, except for agricultural and machinery tire lines.
BFS still has seven North American tire plants operating-including unionized factories in La Vergne and Warren County, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ill.; and a non-union plant in Wilson, N.C.
In addition, salaried employees at each of the company's plants were to undergo safety training, and were expected to operate the facilities by July 15; output was projected at 10 to 15 percent of capacity.
The contract negotiations, which began last spring between the union and Nashville-based BFS, broke off July 10 after a weekend of talks with a federal mediator failed to ease the stalemate. At that point, BFS put its ``last, best and final offer'' on the table.
The two sides remain far apart-with neither willing to budge-and no further talks have been scheduled.
One issue is BFS's refusal to follow the pattern master contract provisions already agreed upon by URW workers at Goodyear and Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co., a unit of Michelin North America.
BFS has maintained throughout negotiations that it would not be tied to the master contract, claiming its costs already exceeded competitors' by $5 per tire.
The company said the pattern agreement with Goodyear-which raises total labor costs by 16 percent over three years-would not allow it to be competitive.
The URW identified 10 areas in BFS' final offer it termed ``unacceptable.'' Union members had been working on a day-to-day basis since the old contract expired April 23.
Areas of contention include: co-payments on health care; continuous operations with 12-hour shifts; reduced pay for holiday work; tying cost-of-living allowance payments to preset productivity levels; reduced wages for warehouse workers and for new hires; and changes in the incentive pay system.
``The company wants to reinvent the entire contract,'' said URW Organizational Director John Sellers, the union's Bridgestone/Firestone coordinator. ``They want to rewrite and reinterpret nearly 60 years of bargaining history.'' Without further movement by either side, he said there's ``nothing to talk about.''
In a statement, Bridgestone/Firestone said: ``We gave our last, best and final offer, and, unfortunately, this was rejected. There is an ongoing need to operate these facilities in a productive and competitive fashion, and we believe that our proposal would have accomplished this goal, while enabling our associates to improve their standard of living....''