TUCSON, Ariz.-Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. may be forced to rehire striking United Rubber Workers union members at its two U.S. tire plants, following an unconditional offer by the union to end the strike. The URW offer came after a National Labor Relations Board official ruled the tire maker had used unfair labor practices.
The union made the offer Feb. 28 as negotiations with PATC were to continue in Tucson. The move was aimed at triggering a U.S. labor law that would force the tire maker to reinstate the 1,000 striking workers at plants in Nashville, Tenn., and Hanford, Calif., said Chuck Armstrong, the URW's general counsel.
After the union made the offer, Pirelli Armstrong adjourned negotiations and declined to comment until after examining all available information.
The NLRB ruling was prompted by Pirelli Armstrong's implementation of an offer different from the one on the table when negotiations reached an impasse and the stike began July 15, according to a letter to the URW from Frederick J. Calatrello, director of NLRB Region 8 in Cleveland.
PATC was not initially guilty of bad faith bargain-ing, Mr. Calatrello said. ``At the commencement of the strike, it was an economic action and the company was free to hire permanent replacements.''
But when the company unilaterally implemented new terms and conditions of work on Sept. 8 and be-gan hiring permanent replacements, it included certain new stipulations not part of the proposal on the table July 11, he said.
PATC also didn't give the URW sufficient notice and opportunity to bargain on these issues, including wages, pensions and medical care, among others, and this failure constituted an unfair labor act.
``The strikers are entitled to have their jobs back,'' Mr. Calatrello said. ``They are entitled to displace the replacement workers.''
The union's unconditional offer to return to work is an important part of the process, he said. Until that happened, Pirelli Armstrong still could legally retain the replacement workers.
At this point, Mr. Calatrello said he won't issue a formal complaint against the tire maker, but he will do so if the company doesn't reinstate the workers. Should PATC refuse, Mr. Calatrello's complaint would go before an NLRB administrative law judge for a hearing.
Other NLRB charges between the two sides are pending in Cleveland, as well as in Tennessee and California, and the union said it expects contract negotiations with Pirelli Armstrong to continue.
URW officials estimate Pirelli Armstrong's potential liability-including back pay, benefits and other possible payouts-could reach $1 million per week if the company refuses to comply with the NLRB ruling.
It is unknown whether this decision will affect the URW's strike against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which also hired replacement workers at three tire facilities and an air springs plant.
NLRB charges filed by both sides in that dispute have been forwarded to Washington for further advice.