AKRON-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. appears to have successfully broken the strike that began July 12 at the five facilities covered by the company's master contract with the United Rubber Workers union. The affected tire plants-in Decatur, Ill., Des Moines, Iowa, and Oklahoma City-have resumed full production, as has an air springs plant in Noblesville, Ind., and the company's tech center in Akron, where Firestone race tires are made.
Union and company negotiators met Jan. 18 in Chicago-their first face-to-face meeting since July 10-but there was no concrete outcome, just a BFS statement that it is studying the union's proposals.
The URW also remains on strike at Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.'s (PATC) plants in Nashville, Tenn., and Hanford, Calif., where about 1,000 workers walked off the job July 15.
The union claims those factories are fully staffed through replacement workers and salaried staff, yet are operating at less than 50-percent capacity.
URW representatives restarted negotiations with Pirelli Armstrong officials the week of Jan. 9, but suspended talks at week's end until after a special URW convention the week of Jan. 23.
Meanwhile, URW members remained on the job at Titan Tire Corp.'s farm tire plant in Des Moines despite rejecting what the company called its ``last, best and final offer,'' Jan. 14.
Nevertheless, on Jan. 16 the company began implementing the terms of its offer, which include reductions in hourly wages and benefits.
The Des Moines workers had gone out on strike in July with other PATC workers, but began returning in September under the terms of their old contract after Titan bought the plant.
About 549 workers are back at the factory, which is operating at 70 percent of capacity.
The strike at Bridgestone/Firestone, the longest in the history of the tire industry, moved into what seems likely to be its final phase Jan. 4, when the company announced it would hire 2,000 permanent replacement workers, eliminating the jobs of half the roughly 4,000 striking URW members.
A week later, Local 7 at the Akron tech center unilaterally decided to unconditionally return to work.
However, BFS rebuffed the 150 Akron workers' initial attempt to return to their jobs, saying it would recall them based on its needs-and indicating it likely would not need them all. ``You find out during a strike which jobs are necessary and which jobs aren't,'' a company spokesman said.
The company recalled 100 to begin work Jan. 16, and it was not clear whether any additional workers would be called back.
Another 800 union members at the four plants on strike have crossed the picket lines and returned to work, BFS said. The majority of these were at the Dayton Tire plant in Oklahoma City, where 480 of 1,100 union workers have crossed the line.
``Christmas was a real bad (time),'' said Tony Carr, vice president of Local 998 in Oklahoma City. ``People were getting their homes foreclosed on and their furniture and cars taken away.''
BFS' decision to hire permanent replacements drew criticism from the highest levels of the Clinton administration, including Labor Secretary Robert Reich and the president himself.
In a statement, Mr. Clinton faulted BFS manage-ment for ``flagrantly turning its back on our tradition of peaceful collective bargaining to solve labor disputes.''
But the company spokesman said the hiring of replacement workers, like the contract changes that have been implemented, was necessary for the tire maker's long-term survival.
The URW had wanted BFS to accept a contract patterned after that negotiated with Goodyear, which included guaranteed annual cost-of-living wage increases, profit sharing and pension improvements.
But BFS made it clear from the start that it would not accept the pattern agreement, claiming its costs already exceeded competitors' by $5 per tire.
Instead, the company insisted on contract revisions including a move to 12-hour shifts for round-the-clock plant operation, pay increases based on productivity improvements, lower starting wages for new hires and worker contributions to health benefits.
The company has proceeded to implement these changes. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the URW can do to alter what is essentially a fait accompli by persuading BFS to make contract concessions or to rehire union members it considers permanently replaced.