WASHINGTON-Bridgestone/Fire-stone Inc. is a company which forces American workers ``to choose between being underpaid and unemployed,'' said AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago Aug. 28. A spokesman for Bridgestone/Firestone called the speech ``just the same old distortions the union has been putting out.''
In a convention speech widely regarded as an effort to re-establish organized labor's clout in the Democratic Party, Mr. Sweeney said U.S. workers increased productivity 24 percent over the last two decades, but saw wages fall 15 percent during the same period.
``What do working families want from their unions?'' Mr. Sweeney asked. ``They want us to get after corporations who force them to choose between being underpaid and unemployed-corporations like Bridgestone/Firestone, which illegally replaced 2,300 striking workers.''
Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. hired those replacements in January 1995, six months after some 4,000 workers struck the company. Since then, it has been a key target of both organized labor and the Clinton administration.
Although the company insists its actions were legal under the National Labor Relations Act, the National Labor Relations Board brought charges that Bridgestone/Firestone violated federal anti-strikebreaking statutes.
Mr. Sweeney's accusations ``have not been proven in a court of law,'' the BFS spokesman said. The trial before an administrative law judge in Pittsburgh is expected to begin October 21.
Also, President Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich have singled out the tire company for criticism.
On March 8, 1995, Mr. Clinton issued an executive order barring companies that hire permanent striker replacements from holding federal contracts worth more than $100,000.
Bridgestone/Firestone joined the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others in suing the administration.
So far, the plaintiffs in that case have won a temporary injunction against enforcement of the presidential order.