METARIE, La.-A Dixieland band played traditional music for a ``New Orleans-style'' jazz funeral as the Firestone sign in front of Lucas Tire Co.'s outlet in Metarie was taken down and ``laid to rest'' in a giant coffin in a demonstration of support for union rubber workers displaced during the 1994-95 strike against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. On Sept. 12, members of the United Steelworkers of America, which merged more than a year ago with the former United Rubber Workers union, performed the mock funeral to symbolize Lucas Tire Co.'s decision to drop the company's Bridgestone, Firestone and Dayton brands from its tire product offerings after 30 years.
The once-prominent Bridgestone sign at the store got a similar treatment: slowly lowered into the giant coffin while the band played funeral music in the background.
In place of the BFS signage, union members erected a Kelly-Springfield sign-the brand Mr. Lucas has picked up to replace the $1 million worth of Bridgestone
and Firestone product that his family-run business has sold annually.
In less dramatic fashion, the workers replaced all of the Bridgestone/Firestone signs with Kelly-Springfield ones at Mr. Lucas' three other area stores.
The publicity stunt helped both the union and Mr. Lucas in different ways, he told TIRE BUSINESS.
For the Steelworkers, the event helped heighten awareness of its ``Don't Buy'' campaign against the Nashville-based tire maker it has been at war with since 1994.
On July 12, 1994, about 4,000 BFS workers struck the firm's plants when the two sides failed to reach a contract agreement. Six months later the company began hiring what amounted to 2,300 strikebreakers.
The union called off the strike in May 1995, but about 150 workers have yet to be recalled.
A BFS spokesman downplayed the mock funeral, stating: ``We believe the USWA's corporate campaign against our company is just not working and that, while Mr. Lucas is giving this as a reason to end his business with BFS, he has simply made a business decision to purchase tires from one of our competitors.''
Mr. Lucas said he also found a way to save more than $2,000 to replace the signs after he decided-largely because of the union's strike-to change suppliers.
``I'm a little less militant than (the union members) are,'' he said with a chuckle.
Replacing the signs would have cost him $2,500, he said. By allowing the union members to perform the mock funeral, however, he saved more than $2,000. The only expense, he said, was a rental truck he provided the workers.
Although switching to Kelly-Springfield ``was the best decision (he) ever made,'' it wasn't an easy one, he said.
``I had only one side of the story (about the strike), and that was from Bridgestone/Firestone at the dealer meetings,'' Mr. Lucas said. So he called the union and, not surprisingly, got a completely different take on the situation.
``If the truth be known, it probably falls somewhere in between,'' he admitted.
Still, he changed his mind after hearing the Steelworkers' story.
``Here's an international company with worldwide facilities that wants the workers to come to its terms,'' Mr. Lucas said in a United Steelworkers press release announcing the mock funeral. ``They're shipping products from Third World countries while American workers are out of work.''
He, and his customers, can identify with the problems facing the unemployed workers, he said.
``I'm not in manufacturing or management, and I'm not labor,'' he explained. ``But 90 percent of my customers are.''
But the third-generation tire dealer said a major part of his decision hinged on Bridgestone/Firestone business policies.
He said his order fill rate on some BFS products fell to 50 percent after the strike began.
More maddening, he said, were the company's pricing policies.
The dozen or so Firestone Tire & Service Centers that compete with Lucas Tire sell tires cheaper than he can buy them, he said.
``It's nothing personal against the people,'' Mr. Lucas emphasized. ``On a personal basis, they are fine folks. It's just the policies of the company.''
As the only Kelly-Springfield dealer in his area, Mr. Lucas said he can command a better price.