NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Rubber Workers union members have scored another minor victory by convincing a Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. customer in the tire maker's own backyard to re-examine its tire purchases. Nashville's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) on July 11 suspended its bus tire contract with BFS.
The MTA signed the purchase agreement-covering an estimated 365 tires totaling about $112,000 per year-June 13. But it recently had reason to re-examine the accord, said MTA Executive Director Robert Babbitt.
Uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the United Steelworkers of America's unfair labor practice charges filed against the tire maker, as well as a recent executive order banning government purchases from firms staffed with strikebreakers, prompted the move, according to Mr. Babbitt.
Although a panel of federal appeals court judges in March upheld a ruling overturning President Clinton's strikebreaker executive order, the union is appealing the decision.
In addition, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that BFS participated in unfair labor practices during its two-year dispute with the union. The tire maker has appealed the NLRB ruling and a hearing is set for Oct. 15.
The MTA needs time to review the relevancy of these ongoing legal battles, Mr. Babbitt said.
``We've frozen (the purchase agreement) for 30 days-not thrown it out-to allow us to investigate whether the executive order or NLRB case has any bearing on it,'' he said.
Until the matter is resolved, he said, competitive bids for any tires needed by the authority will be sought from suppliers other than the Bridgestone Corp. subsidiary.
The transit authority's action marks the second such decision in recent months.
General Motors Corp.'s Saturn Corp. division during the last four months has exchanged about two dozen Firestone-brand tires upon customers' requests. Bridgestone/Firestone has supplied 100 percent of the tires on new Saturns since GM created the division in 1990. The firm in 1995 reportedly supplied Saturn with about 1.2 million tires.
A BFS spokesman claimed that an attorney for the USWA-which merged with the United Rubber Workers July 1, 1995-intimidated MTA officials into re-examining their purchase pact with the tire maker. The union, he said, informed MTA officials that the executive order covered the local agency's tire purchases and shouldn't be disregarded because a final ruling hasn't been made.
Bridgestone/Firestone is challenging the MTA's suspension of the two parties' purchase agreement. ``We haven't lost any business with the MTA yet,'' the spokesman said.
However, John Sellers, executive vice president of the Steelworkers' Rubber and Plastics Industry Conference, said the MTA's move ``is a well-deserved slap in the face'' of BFS. ``It means that Bridgestone/Firestone won't be able to put its tires on the buses that carry its U.S. headquarters staff to and from their jobs.''
The MTA's move came one day before the two-year mark of the union's dispute with BFS.
About 600 USWA members commemorated the dispute's ``infamous'' anniversary by storming Bridgestone/Firestone's Nashville headquarters July 12 and demonstrating the following day at more than 1,200 Firestone MasterCare stores.
International unions supporting the USWA planned to march on the Tokyo headquarters of Bridgestone Inc., BFS' parent company, as well as on BFS facilities in Europe and South America.
At a July 1 press conference in Washington, Mr. Sellers said the activities are the latest steps to bring public attention to the USWA's boycott of BFS.
The union's recent boycott activities, he said, include passing out black flags at the Indianapolis 500 and other Indycar racing events. The purpose is to get Bridgestone/Firestone ``black flagged''-i.e. disqualified-for ``outrageous rules violations.''
Meanwhile, both the company and the union have begun running dueling advertisements to preach their messages to consumers.
BFS launched a four-week newspaper ad campaign featuring three of its employees. Themed, ``Our tires go the extra mile because our people do,'' the ads are running in eight newspapers nationwide.
Rubber workers from BFS factories were featured in a half-hour ``infomercial'' the union recently aired on several TV stations to coincide with a print ad campaign depicting several members and how they've been affected by the protracted labor disagreement.
The dispute stems back to July 12, 1994, when about 4,000 union workers struck Bridgestone/Firestone facilities in five cities. In January 1995, the tire maker began hiring what amounted to 2,300 strikebreakers.
Then in May 1995, the union called off its strike against the company, but 488 workers have yet to be recalled.