NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said it plans to begin hiring permanent replacement workers Aug. 25 for the 3,600 United Rubber Workers members striking three of its U.S. plants. The letters advising URW officials of this intent were delivered Aug. 18, just as union officials were preparing for a rally that day at the Japanese Consulate in Chicago. The URW planned that activity to protest the company's earlier declaration that it would unilaterally implement its latest contract offer, effective Aug. 18.
Bridgestone/Firestone said it initially will hire 50 production workers at the Oklahoma City plant, and 30 production and maintenance workers each at Des Moines, Iowa, and Decatur, Ill., factories, a company spokesman said. Maintenance work is contracted out in Oklahoma City.
There is no current need to hire replacements for the 350 strikers at the air springs plant in Noblesville, Ill., or the 150 strikers at locations in Akron, he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone operates assessment centers at each of the three tire plants and will draw candidates from this pool, the spokesman said. The firm still wants the current employees to return to work, he added.
``These (replacements) are permanent employees and we do have work for all our people,'' he said.
BFS said it considers the talks at an impasse, an issue that could be important in future litigation. During 43 bargaining sessions no agreement was reached; no talks have been held since the URW strike began July 12, the spokesman said. The company submitted what it declared its ``last, best and final offer'' June 29.
Under current labor law, it is lawful to replace striking workers if negotiations are at an impasse, said Dennis Byrne, a University of Akron economics professor.
The URW, however, has serious doubts about whether the talks should be declared at impasse, a spokesman said. ``They didn't respond to our contract proposal when they left the table July 10 and said they wouldn't deviate from their own proposal.''
Prior to saying it will hire replacements, BFS sent a videotape outlining its offer to the striking workers and asking them to return to work.
BFS claims total annual compensation would climb to $65,015 from $62,715. It wants workers to accept changes including 12-hour shifts, partial payment of health care premiums, and cost-of-living allowance payments tied to productivity.
URW President Kenneth L. Coss said ``while this tape was intended to turn our members against the union, it has instead galvanized them and let them clearly see the insidious nature of Bridgestone/Firestone's proposal.''
Harry Millis, an analyst with Cleveland-based Fundamental Research Inc., said the overall package wasn't as bad as the union painted, but is a sign of management trying to regain control.
The URW also is on strike against Yokohama Tire Corp., Dunlop Tire Corp., and Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.