AKRON-Industry analysts and leaders at Rubber Workers union locals generally approved of the United Steelworkers of America's plan to merge with the United Auto Workers and the International Association of Machinists, announced in late July. The alliance-to be completed by the year 2000-would form the largest AFL-CIO union, with 2 million active members.
The mega-merger will give its members a stronger political voice and a healthier strike fund, while reducing cannibalism among unions during organizing campaigns, officials said.
``I think it's fantastic,'' said Randy L. Gordon, vice president of Rubber Workers Local 713 in Decatur, Ill. ``I just wish it could go through earlier because. . . it would help us apply pressure on (Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.). . . .''
The merger plans came as no surprise to James Craft, a professor of management at the University of Pittsburgh.
``I've watched unions for 35 years, and I see (the merger) as a natural evolution, considering what's gone on,'' Mr. Craft said. ``The decline in union membership has led to this merger, as well as the problems in dealing with companies.''
Mr. Craft said the merger would be more of an administrative alliance than a true merger, helping the unions consolidate organizing campaigns and bargaining processes.
Kevin Welch, president of Rubber Workers Local 207 at Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s Findlay, Ohio, plant, said he supports the merger and agreed it would eliminate fierce competition among the unions for members.
``We're not going to interfere with each other's organizing campaigns,'' he said. ``And you have one big strike and defense fund-the Steelworkers $166 million and the Auto Workers $1 billion-plus. At no time would you have it like we had with Bridgestone/Firestone, where one company can bankrupt your strike fund.''
Union workers at Cooper's Findlay unit are upbeat about the merger, but are taking a wait-and-see approach because many details have yet to be worked out, Mr. Welch said.
Harry Millis, an analyst with Fundamental Research Inc., said the merger will make the unions more efficient and will give the Rubber Workers more political clout. ``It gives you a louder single voice and opens up opportunity for more economic pressure against a Bridgestone/Firestone.''
Although almost a must-make move, the merger does have its down side, Mr. Millis said. It will diminish the voice of Rubber Workers officials and their members in the overall unit, he said.
``Obviously, the larger the organization, the more far removed you'll be from the organization,'' Mr. Millis said. ``Before, on the local level, the Rubber Workers had (URW President Kenneth L. Coss') ear, and had a major role in setting national policies and priorities on spending. As a part of a much larger organization, they'll have very little say at the national level.''
Moving from a 94,000-member union to a 2 million-member giant undoubtedly will leave many smaller Rubber Workers locals with a feeling of alienation, he said. ``It's that feeling of `Hey, this guy doesn't really represent me.' ''
Workers at Fidelity Tire Manufacturing Co.'s plant are questioning how their small local will fit into the big picture, said Leo T. Bradley, president of Rubber Workers Local 303 in Natchez, Miss. But the overall feeling at the local is that the merger is the only way to create a ``level playing field.''
``There's a concern here that little locals like us will get lost in the merger,'' Mr. Bradley said. ``But they're promising us that that won't happen.
``The more members you have, the stronger you are,'' he said. ``With these multinational companies, you can't stand up and fight them the way we are. Mergers seem to be the best way to go.''