AKRON-The tire strike of '94 is now longer than the landmark work stoppage of 1976-but there similarities pretty much end. ``This is completely different,'' said David Yurick, president of United Rubber Workers Local 7 in Akron. ``The only similarity is the duration.''
Back in 1976, the United Rubber Workers union was twice as big. The 60,000 to 70,000 members on strike were 10 times more than the number now off the job.
Workers then were fighting for industrywide higher wages and a groundbreaking cost-of-living allowance formula. Now they're trying to force two tire makers to accept a pact close to the pattern agreement so they can maintain a standard of living they've fought for over many contracts.
But the biggest difference between then and now is that in 1976, the 141-day walkout effectively took out most of the tire-making capacity in the U.S. In 1994, however, the five tire plants on strike against Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.-two non-tire locals also are off the job-account for roughly 11 percent of capacity in the U.S. and Canada.
And the two companies are making some tires-more than 50 percent in certain cases-at these facilities using a combination of salaried staff, temporary workers and permanent new hires.
So as the strike reached 142 days at Bridgestone/Firestone Nov. 30 and at Pirelli Armstrong three days later, the URW and management seemed just as far apart as when they started.
Most recently, the lead URW negotiator in the Bridgestone/Firestone talks openly challenged the company to come back to the bargaining table. The union's John Sellers said he would even agree to have the two sides in separate rooms-with a mediator shuttling back and forth to negotiate.
URW President Kenneth Coss said the union has asked the tire maker to pick out four or five items that are most important, but the firm has refused.
On the other hand, a Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman said the company may soon lose its patience. ``We feel we have been very patient, but the time may soon come when we have to hire permanent replacements.''
Mr. Coss sees more of a chance to restarting talks with Pirelli Armstrong, with some overtures exchanged in recent weeks toward resuming negotiations.