CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Continental General Tire Inc. is pessimistic that the 21-week strike at its Charlotte radial passenger tire plant will be settled any time soon. The company and United Steelworkers of America Local 850 remain far apart on financial and replacement-worker issues. In a letter sent Feb. 4 to employees at the plant, Conti General said the most recent offers by the company and union ``are not even close to each other.''
After giving the USWA local its ``last, best and final'' contract offer Jan. 18, CGT said the difference between the cost of its proposal and the previous union offer was about $22 million. The no-strike, no-lockout six-year proposal included raises in wages and pension benefits that exceeded or matched those of previous offers, but the union believes it still is behind the industry standard in most areas.
The two sides also differ on a cost-of-living allowance, 401(k) retirement plan and scheduling issues.
The union met with the company Feb. 11 and presented it with a counterproposal that cut the gap by about $11.8 million. But CGT officials quickly rejected that offer, according to the USWA.
``The company's response... makes it absolutely clear that its goal has always been our unconditional surrender,'' said Earl Propst, president of Local 850, whose 1,450 members went on strike Sept. 20.
CGT's letter to union members did not address replacement hires at the plant. Since Local 850 members walked out, 600 strikebreakers have been hired, with about 50 more added every week. The factory is operating at about 50 percent of daily capacity, the company said.
CGT has said the replacements will be given the option to stay when the strike ends. USWA officials oppose any proposal allowing strikebreakers to take union jobs.
During the exchange of proposals, the USWA has continued its campaign for support against Conti General and its German parent Continental A.G.
The offensive began Jan. 12 with negative newspaper advertisements and radio spots in U.S. cities with Conti General plants, and eventually could call for boycotts of Conti products around the world.
As part of the effort, two Charlotte workers, their families and union officials took a nine-day European ``solidarity'' tour beginning the week of Jan. 25, with stops in Scotland, Belgium, Slovakia and Turkey to talk to Conti workers. That trip followed a visit to German union officials by representatives of the USWA and International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions.
A CGT official said the company believes the ad campaign, trips abroad and threatened boycotts are ``more for show than for go,'' and are "diversionary tactics designed to keep spirits high on the picket line."