MADISON, Tenn.-For those involved in the ongoing rubber strikes, life is tough right now-no matter which side of the picket line you're on. For the 4,000 United Rubber Workers who've been on strike against Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. since mid-July, it's a matter of making ends meet. The $100-per-week strike benefit check will stop coming in a couple weeks. You watch replacement workers cross the picket line; taking your job; your livelihood. Your future is uncertain.
For the replacement and temporary workers crossing those lines, it's a matter of driving past some angry picketers, where ``scab'' is the nicest name you'll be called. Every time you go to work, you wonder if your vehicle will be the target of rocks, and every time you go home, you wonder if you'll be followed. You have your job at the expense of someone else.
The scene is Madison, Tenn., just outside Nashville, for the 4 p.m. shift change at the Pirelli Armstrong tire plant. It just as easily could be Pirelli's plant in Hanford, Calif., or BFS's plants in Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Indiana or Ohio.
At least 15 police officers arrive to set up barricades so URW Local 670 members won't impede any incoming or outgoing workers or supply trucks. The picketers are friendly to police. They've gone through this same process nearly every day since the strike started July 15. The strikers, though, aren't so friendly to anyone daring to cross the line. Words, however, are the deadliest weapon hurled on this day.
Numerous security guards for the company stand poised with video cameras. They record every move by the URW members, in case evidence of unlawful acts is needed.
The URW also has someone take video of every car going in or out, presumably to check license plates.
When the day shift is ready to exit, they line their cars up in single file. Police stop traffic and let about 20 vehicles at a time leave. The whole process takes about 30 minutes.
On the URW side, Jim Vantrese stands alone, protecting an obscure entrance. He carries a sign that says, ``You are temporary. We are URW.''
Mr. Vantrese, a 10-year veteran of the plant, is one of the lucky ones. He's been able to make ends meet working a number of odd jobs, such as repairing go-carts and painting. His children are grown, and his house is almost paid for, so he's able to keep his bills down. He feels for the union members who've just bought houses and knows how they must be hurting.
He admits to having feelings of sympathy once in a while for the replacement workers going in-seeing the abuse they take and knowing how the company will treat them. But the feeling goes away quickly. ``Anybody who takes a man's job when he's out here trying to hold his own is lowdown, and I hate them,'' Mr. Vantrese said.
He's hopeful the company won't be able to hold out, and he and the 500 others at the plant can return to their jobs. ``In my opinion, they spent enough money trying to break us to give us what we wanted for the next 10 years.''
On the Pirelli Armstrong side of the line are people like Wamon Buggs. He was once a football star at nearby Vanderbilt University, even playing a bit in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. But after his job with the Nashville mayor's office ended in June, he found himself as a replacement worker at the plant, making $12 an hour so he could pay his bills.
Mr. Buggs, though, was awakened the morning of Oct. 31 when a firebomb was set off at his home.
That side of the line also has the mother of a 3-year-old who took a job at the plant because she badly needed money. On Nov. 9, someone set fire to her car.
Police have made no arrests in these incidents, but are investigating possible tie-ins to the strike-a charge union members strongly deny.
But while these and other incidents have the replacement workers worried, they also are progressing nicely in their jobs and in general have a positive outlook, a company spokesman said.