DES MOINES, Iowa—``Year Two'' of the United Steelworkers of America strike against Titan Tire Corp.'s Des Moines agricultural tire plant began May 1, and it shows no sign of ending soon. John Peno, president of USWA Local 164, anticipated a long strike, but one year is more than he expected.
Maurice ``Morry'' Taylor Jr. said he doesn't think about the duration of the strike. The president and CEO of Quincy, Ill.-based tire and wheel manufacturer Titan International Inc., Titan Tire's parent, believes it doesn't do any good to look into the past.
Mr. Peno said he and his local's 670 members didn't want to strike, but Titan left them no choice. Issues like job security and excessive overtime became major points of contention, he said. The union had made many concessions to Titan and former plant owner Pirelli Tire North America, and felt it deserved to get something back.
``They look at things differently than I do,'' Mr. Taylor said. ``It was their choice to go out, and I can't force them to go back. But sometimes they think they own the place. They've got that part mixed up.''
Over 12 months, the strike has been marked by the hiring of replacement workers, overwhelming propaganda, unfair labor practice charges, some picket-line violence and failed negotiations. Both sides, according to Mr. Peno and Mr. Taylor, have been resilient in standing up to the financial pressures the strike has created.
About six dues-paying members of Local 164 have crossed the line and gone back to the plant, Mr. Peno said.
About 550 replacements have been hired in Des Moines, with the plant running at about 70 percent of pre-strike capacity, Mr. Taylor said.
Titan's first-quarter results showed net sales of $158.6 million, down 15.4 percent from the same period last year, and net income of $100,000—a nosedive of 98.8 percent. Mr. Taylor said he looks at the results as down from last year but a big improvement on 1998's fourth quarter, when the company lost $5.3 million and endured a 13.8-percent decrease in sales from 1997.
The National Labor Relations Board ruling against Titan for unfair labor practices assures that union members won't be kept out once the local agrees to return to work, Mr. Peno said. Titan said it will appeal no matter how long it takes.
In fact, both sides say they're prepared for the long haul. Mr. Taylor said ideally he'd like to expand in Des Moines by bringing back the union workers and keeping the replacement workers, but will do so without the strikers if necessary. Mr. Peno believes the local can work alongside replacement workers.
The two weeks leading up to May 1 were marked by two sets of negotiations in St. Louis between USWA and Titan officials—talks Mr. Peno called the ``best round of discussions we've had.''
While he was optimistic yet realistic about the chances for a quick settlement, Mr. Taylor was far less enthusiastic, although the negotiations were the first real talks since February. Local 303, which staffed Titan Tire's Natchez, Miss., tire plant before striking Sept. 15, was negotiating with the company in St. Louis as well.
The union and company have clashed in the past couple of months over alleged Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations at the plant.
In late February, Mr. Peno filed complaints with OSHA regarding 20 alleged violations, including unsafe elevators, bypassed safety shut-offs on equipment and faulty wiring. In March, OSHA was refused entry to the plant.
After obtaining a warrant, OSHA officials came back, but Titan again barred them because they had USWA members with them. After a district court judge dismissed contempt of court charges against the company, Titan refused entry to OSHA and the union once more.
Finally, OSHA and USWA officials toured the facility the week of April 19 following the denial of a Titan appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
An OSHA report is pending, as is the result of a second contempt of court hearing for the firm held April 27.