PITTSBURGH—United Steelworkers of America members ratified a tentative contract settlement with Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. by a 3-to-1 margin Dec. 12. All but one of the six locations covered under the master contract voted to accept the Nov. 4 tentative package, ending the longest labor dispute in rubber industry history.
The pact, which expires April 23, 2000, resolves all pending unfair labor practice charges against the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker.
The accord demands the immediate recall of displaced union members still on the company's preferential hiring list, as well as the reinstatement of more than 40 workers discharged for alleged picket line misconduct. It also gives workers—about 6,000 are covered by the package—signing bonuses, wage and benefit increases, and a total of about $16 million in ``supplemental bonuses'' for recalled strikers.
The company saved as much as $45 million in back pay that would have been owed to the replaced workers if the National Labor Relations Board's unfair labor practice charges stuck. The settlement also allows the tire maker to maintain 12-hour shift schedules in three tire factories, cut health care costs and tie 30 percent of the workers' future cost-of-living allowances to productivity.
The dispute dates back to July 12, 1994, when about 4,000 union workers struck Bridgestone/Firestone. The tire maker in January 1995 began hiring what amounted to 2,300 strikebreakers. In May 1995, the union called off its strike against the company, and two months later the United Rubber Workers merged with the Steelworkers.
The five USWA locals that approved the accord are:
Local 7 (Akron race tire and tire-building machinery facilities)—76-18;
Local 138 (Noblesville, Ind., air springs plant)—176-11;
Local 310 (Des Moines, Iowa, farm and off-the-road tire factory)—311-206;
Local 713 (Decatur, Ill., passenger and light truck tire operation)—479-63; and
Local 998 (Oklahoma City passenger and light truck tire unit)—278-82.
USWA Local 884, which staffs Bridgestone/Firestone's Russellville, Ark., inner tube plant, rejected the tentative settlement with a 132-130 vote. Local 884 will be covered under the pact because a majority of the Bridgestone/Firestone master locals representing a majority of the union workers accepted the accord. Local 884 officials couldn't be reached for comment.
USWA Local 1055, which staffs Bridgestone/Firestone's La Vergne, Tenn., tire plant, isn't included in the master chain but is covered under the new accord. That local, which has operated without a labor agreement for more than a year, ratified the pact by a 4-to-1 margin Dec. 19.
The blockbuster agreement is a big step forward for all working men and women, said John Sellers, executive vice president of the USWA's Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference.
``This is a victory not only for the members at Bridgestone/Firestone, but for the entire labor movement,'' Mr. Sellers said. ``Our members are eager to get on with the task of rebuilding the union in these plants.''
USWA members are elated the bitter labor dispute is over but don't embrace all parts of the settlement, said Local 7 President David J. Yurick and Local 713 President Roger L. Gates.
``They say if both sides have things they don't like in a contract, it's probably a good deal. I think that's the case here,'' Mr. Gates said. ``We think it's great that this battle is finally over, and considering where we were at, it's a great improvement.''
The agreement protects Bridgestone/Firestone's competitive position, according to a company spokesman.
The firm now must focus on strengthening the relationship between its workers and managers to create ``unity of purpose,'' the spokesman said.
``We need a unified work force that will support the company in its efforts to improve business viability and thereby make Bridgestone/Firestone a great place to work,'' he said. ``It's no secret that we've had a tough and divisive labor dispute. Now we must turn our sights to the future.''
Rebuilding trust between management and union members won't be easy, according to Mr. Yurick.
``The company wants to go back to `business as usual,' but it's not that easy,'' he said. ``There was a mean-spirited side to this dispute. This was an attempt to break the union, and I think that's going to be the hardest part for some of our people to overcome.''
Problems are sprouting daily concerning some hazy details in the contract, Mr. Yurick said.
For example, Mr. Yurick said, the agreement includes a provision allowing members who agreed to return to work in May to get their identical jobs back. However, members of Local 7, which broke ranks and called off its strike in January, aren't covered under the provision.
Some workers in Local 7 now must take different company-assigned posts that may pay less, he said.
``I'm not willing to rebuild a partnership if I have to give up things I rightfully should have now,'' said Mr. Yurick, whose post as a fire control guard was eliminated by the company during the dispute.
``There's a lot of things in this contract that still need to be resolved,'' he said. ``Getting these issues resolved—that's how trust is rebuilt. I think we'll find out in a couple of weeks just where we stand, just how much (management is) willing to work with us.''