DES MOINES, Iowa-While settlements could be near in at least two of the ongoing strikes by the United Rubber Workers against five tire companies, the hiring of replacement workers on two fronts has further clouded hopes for an end anytime soon to a summer of discontent among tire workers. Striking URW members began returning to work Aug. 24 at the Titan Tire Corp. plant in Des Moines. But the road to a final labor agreement at that former Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. (PATC) farm tire plant could still be rocky.
Meanwhile, URW Local 915 reached a tentative pact with Dunlop Tire Corp. Aug. 30, with the hope of ending a 10-week strike at the firm's Huntsville, Ala., tire plant.
On other strike fronts, the news was not so promising.
Union officials at PATC's two striking plants turned back the company's latest concession-seeking proposal, while the tire maker continues to hire temporary workers at the facilities.
Yokohama Tire Corp. officials continue to negotiate with URW representatives.
But 4,200 striking workers at five Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. plants are hunkering down for what appears likely to be a long battle with the Nashville, Tenn.-based firm, which on Aug. 25 began hiring 110 permanent employees for its plants in Oklahoma, Illinois and Iowa.
Last month, after BFS warned the union it would begin hiring permanent replacements if the union didn't accept the company's ``final offer,'' the URW filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the tire maker for failing to ``bargain in good faith.''
Although several stikers voiced concern over the development, URW President Kenneth Coss reassured members that the company's hiring of replacement workers is purely psychological warfare, and ``anything short of working something out with you is going to be a recipe for disaster.''
According to a published report, URW members were told Aug. 30 that the AFL-CIO is considering a possible worldwide boycott of Bridgestone/Firestone products and suppliers in order to pressure the tire maker for a settlement.
At Titan Tire, URW Local 164 members, who struck the Des Moines tire plant July 15, prepared for a scheduled vote Sept. 1 on a back-to-work agreement. Pirelli Armstrong sold the plant to Titan Tire's parent, Titan Wheel International Inc., on July 16.
URW members decided to end that strike, rather than lose their jobs to replacement workers, according to Earl Seymour, president of Local 164.
Over the Aug. 20 weekend, Titan accepted about 600 applications from prospective replacements, a company spokeswoman said, but plans to hire any are now on hold.
``Since the union decided to call off the strike, what we intend to do is bring (union workers) all back as soon as possible,'' said Maurice Taylor, Titan president and CEO.
Before the strike ended, the firm said it would gradually increase hourly employment at the plant to 480-200 shy of the number working there before the strike.
Now, however, Mr. Taylor plans to return all 680 hourly workers within 45 days, and negotiations on a permanent contract are set for the week of Sept. 5.
The plant already is running at 15 to 20 percent of capacity, using a mix of hourly and salaried employees. To run the factory at maximum efficiency, at least 1,000 workers will be needed, Mr. Taylor said.
About 1,500 workers at Dunlop's Huntsville plant were to vote on a company proposal Sept. 1. Prospects of approval, however, are grim, said Ronald Hollingsworth, vice president of Local 915.
``I've heard a lot of comments from people not satisfied,'' he said. ``If it passes, it will be close. And it may go down big.''
The tire maker confirmed a tentative deal had been reached, but declined to give further details.
Pirelli Armstrong's latest contract offer only infuriated the more than 1,000 workers at its plants in Hanford, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn., said Stanley Johnson, president of Local 670 in Nashville. ``It's a lot worse than the first (offer).''
A PATC spokesman said the recent offer, delivered to union officials Aug. 30, was related to concessions Bridgestone/Firestone is holding out for, including cuts in wages, health benefits and pensions.
Italian-owned PATC has hired 30 to 40 workers at its strike-bound plants and plans to ``progressively hire replacements over the next few days,'' the spokesman said, declining to give current output levels.
``Other firms on strike have non-union tire plants open. So it puts us in a particularly bad market position to not operate.''
Yokohama has been operating its plant with salaried staff since its workers went on strike July 23, a spokesman said, and has no intentions to hire replacements.