CINCINNATI (April 21, 2000)—The United Steelworkers of America has chosen Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. as its target company for labor negotiations within the tire industry this year.
The union announced April 7 it will try to negotiate a master contract with the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker and establish a pattern for agreements with other tire and rubber companies. A pattern would set guidelines for wages and benefits the USWA hopes to establish across the industry and eliminate "cutthroat competition" among its workers, the USWA said.
BFS´ current master pact, which covers workers at three tire and three non-tire plants, was to expire April 23, but the company and the union agreed April 18 to extend the agreement and continue to negotiate on a day-to-day basis.
Either party can terminate the extension with 14-days notice, the USWA said.
Several other tire companies have contract expirations or midterm reopeners to deal with in 2000, including:
*Michelin North America Inc.—master contract for three Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. tire plants;
*Goodyear—master contract midterm reopener for four tire and four non-tire facilities;
*Dunlop Tire Corp.—contracts at two tire plants (separate from Goodyear master); and
*Yokohama Tire Corp. and Pirelli Tire North America—midterm contract reopeners.
USWA negotiators began preliminary discussions with company officials from the "Big Three" tire makers—BFS, Goodyear and Michelin—in March. The union´s Rubber and Plastic Industry Conference made its target selection at a meeting in Cincinnati, where negotiations with Goodyear were being held, said John Sellers, executive vice president of the USWA conference.
BFS said in a statement that it understood why it was chosen as the target, but that each company and contract—even those within the same firm—are different.
"Bridgestone/Firestone is committed to bargaining in good faith to reach mutually acceptable agreements," the statement said. "Our objective is to develop agreements that allow us to provide our customers with what they want when they want it. This is essential to the company´s continuing operations."
The choice of Bridgestone/Firestone as the pattern-setter isn´t surprising, said David Meyer, associate professor of management at the University of Akron´s College of Business Administration.
Goodyear and the USWA are in a non-strike reopener and likely will settle on ensuring standard raises and the "same old, same old" progress, Mr. Meyer said. And the USWA probably wouldn´t set a pattern with Uniroyal Goodrich, because those are the only unionized plants within Michelin North America, and any threat to strike simply would prompt the company to shift production to its non-union facilities, he said.
The relationship between BFS and the USWA has improved since the two sides engaged in a bitter labor dispute from 1994 to 1996.
In that conflict, members of the former United Rubber Workers union at BFS plants walked out in July 1994 and stayed out for 10 months. Meanwhile, the company hired more than 2,000 permanent replacement workers at the facilities. The United Rubber Workers merged into the USWA in 1995, and a contract finally was signed in December 1996.
Mr. Meyer predicts a lack of fireworks for this year´s negotiations.
"It´s been an armed truce, but there´s no reason to damage each other," he said. "Putting the hammer to Bridgestone/Firestone is not in the union´s best interest. Plus, there´s a good labor market right now.
Mr. Meyer also believes that bargaining this year will be "ballpark" rather than pattern-setting.