DES MOINES, Iowa-Mindful of the unsettled labor disputes at several Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tire plants, workers at Titan Tire Corp.'s tire plant in Des Moines ratified a new contract, beating a strike deadline by one day, the local union president said. United Rubber Workers Local 164 voted 343-140 on April 17 to accept the same three-year pact it rejected little more than a week earlier, said Earl Seymour, the local's president. The union had voted to strike the plant April 18 if the second vote failed.
``I would say the membership gave a long, hard look at what's happening with the Firestone group and thought they needed to work,'' Mr. Seymour said.
URW members have been on strike at four Bridgestone/Firestone plants since July. The company has filled the strikers' jobs with replacement workers, and said the plants are producing at capacity.
Maurice Taylor Jr., president and CEO of Titan's parent company, Titan Wheel International Inc., praised the pact, calling it ``the best agreement for all parties involved.''
However, not all union members shared Mr. Taylor's enthusiasm for the deal, despite the local's overwhelming vote of approval, Mr. Seymour said.
``They figured it was the best of two evils,'' Mr. Seymour said. ``The alternatives were not good.''
Despite wage cuts of $1.50 to $3.00 in the contract, the average hourly pay at the plant is about $14. That doesn't count medical benefits or a combined bonus and profit-sharing plan that should net each worker about $1,250 to $1,800 in the first quarter.
The ranges represent differences between the union's and the company's figures. Titan said the total package-wages and benefits-will equal $19 to $20 an hour.
``By utilizing profit-sharing benefits, both Titan and its employees can actively take part in the company's success,'' Mr. Taylor said. ``This contract is unique to Titan, and we're setting our own standards in the rubber industry.''
A securities analyst who follows Titan said the profit-sharing plan is popular with management and workers in the agriculture industry, where Titan supplies wheels for farm equipment.
``The plan is becoming more and more common with more progressive companies,'' said James Kawai of Wertheim Schroder & Co. ``One thing about Taylor, he ties (profit sharing) directly to operating profit, and he rolls it out to the floor, not just with management.''
The contract also: freezes the pension fund; eliminates benefits for future retirees, who can buy insurance through Titan's program until they reach Medicare age; and creates a 401(k) plan, with the firm matching employee contributions toward retirement.
Titan bought the Des Moines plant, which produces farm tires, from Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. last July, one day after the local voted to strike. The union ended the strike in August, and went back to work under a temporary agreement. The union rejected another offer in January, but remained on the job as Titan implemented the plan.