VALLEYFIELD, Quebec (June 14, 2000)—Negotiators for Goodyear Canada Inc. and United Steelworkers Local 919 met June 12 in the presence of a government-appointed conciliator—the first bargaining session between the sides since the union went on strike April 27.
Local 919, which comprises the bulk of the company´s technical and office staff at Goodyear´s Valleyfield radial passenger tire plant, struck over financial, job security and seniority issues, according to local Vice President Daniel Mallette. The 76-member local had been working without a contract since July 1996, when its previous three-year pact expired. The union was fighting the company within Quebec´s labor department during that span over Goodyear´s alleged exclusion of certain jobs from unionization.
According to provincial law, the union couldn´t strike during that period, and Goodyear couldn´t lock out the local members, Mr. Mallette said. The Quebec labor department ruled against Goodyear late in 1999, he said.
Local 919 regained its right to strike, and after several offers from the company and some mediation sessions, the union overwhelmingly voted to strike, Mr. Mallette said.
The two sides haven´t talked since the walkout, but the Quebec government insisted that they meet and try to bargain, he said. "We´ve been looking for any way to talk and negotiate," Mallette said. "There can´t be a settlement unless we talk. I don´t know what Goodyear´s mindset is, but ours is to settle this."
According to a Goodyear spokesman, the company made a "fair and final" offer to the union before the strike, but the members chose to reject it. The plant is still in operation, with other Goodyear employees picking up the work, he said.
Local 919 wants a financial package, including back pay to 1996, somewhat in line with Valleyfield´s production workers, who are affiliated with Local 143 of the Syndicat des Communications, de L´Energie et du Papier. They left the United Rubber Workers in the mid-1980s.
The production workers will get raises totaling about $2.28 per hour between 1996 and 2002, while Local 919 has been offered raises of about $1.15 per hour over the same span, Mr. Mallette said. The difference between monthly production and USWA pension benefits for a 30-year worker is nearly $225 a month, he said.
The union also wants its cost-of-living allowance reinstated, particularly so its members can buy extra pension benefits with it, he said. Members lost the allowance in 1990.
But the job security and seniority issues are even more important to the union members, Mr. Mallette said. Over the last 10 years, USWA jobs have been whittled to 65 from 115, including 11 workers who were laid off in November, he said. During the same time, production in Valleyfield has increased to about 26,000 tires per day from 18,000 tires. "Our jobs have gone to subcontractors, management and production," he said. "We feel enough is enough. What does it matter to have a good wage increase if you don´t have a job?´´
Seniority also has come into play, as workers with 20-plus years of experience have been laid off while employees with two to three years in have stayed, Mr. Mallette said. There needs to be a set, fair procedure, he said.
Goodyear and the union also will be going to provincial court to settle a dispute over who can be used to "replace" workers during the strike. Quebec provincial law says temporary or replacement workers cannot be used during a strike, and the company is following those regulations, the Goodyear spokesman said.