MORRISON, Tenn. (August 1, 2000) — United Steelworkers of America Local 1155, which staffs Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.´s radial truck and bus tire facility in Warren County, Tenn., rejected a six-year contract offer from the company, leaving contract negotiations between the tire maker and the USWA in their most unstable position since master talks began in March.
Bargaining for the six union locals covered by the expired master contract and two others that have separate pacts has progressed little, a USWA spokesman said, with a wide gap between the tire maker and union on several issues. About 7,000 workers are affected by those negotiations.
Local 1155´s contract with BFS was separate from the master agreement and lapsed July 22, following the 589-14 rejection of the company´s offer.
In talks between Bridgestone/Firestone and the Warren County local, the two sides disputed some of the termination provisions as the contract neared its lapse date. To resolve the debate, the sides agreed July 11 the company would make a "last and best" proposal to the union, and the membership would vote on it, the spokesman said.
But the union´s bargaining committee didn´t like the offer, claiming it failed to address key issues such as seniority, outside contracting, job classification and mandatory overtime, he said. The company proposed a $3-per-hour raise over six years, but didn´t mention pension increases, the spokesman said.
"Our members demand the same contract rights that members at BFS plants around the country already have," said Local 1155 President Phillip Davis. "The current Warren County contract lacks significant protections in major areas ... which the BFS proposal failed to address."
The bargaining committee recommended the offer be rejected, and the membership followed that lead.
Under the July 11 agreement, the more than 750 Local 1155 members will work under the terms of the old contract, with both sides able to terminate the pact with 14 days notice, the USWA and company said.
Bridgestone/Firestone is disappointed by the offer´s rejection, a company spokeswoman said. "It is a competitive and fair proposal reached after many negotiating sessions," she said. "We have worked hard to reach a new agreement acceptable to both sides through good-faith bargaining."
The locals covered by the master contract, which expired April 23, are operating under a similar agreement while talks continue.
The plants affected by the master talks are located in Akron; Noblesville, Ind.; Des Moines, Iowa; Decatur, Ill.; Russellville, Ark.; and Oklahoma City. Workers at the company´s radial plant in LaVergne, Tenn., have had their own contract in the past but now also are on a master schedule.
Members of USWA Local 787, who staff Bridgestone/Firestone´s off-the-road tire plant in Bloomington, Ill., have a five-day termination agreement with the company. Local 787´s separate pact with the firm lapsed March 20.
On the master level, the USWA is concerned because it says the company is demanding concessions in several areas, including medical benefits and insurance co-payments and deductibles, the spokesman said. Also, Bridgestone/Firestone wants to limit seniority rights, reduce holiday pay and maintain mandatory overtime, he said.
"They´re using a hard-nosed approach," the spokesman said. "Talks have been going on for a long time, and some people are getting impatient. On many issues, either the company wants concessions or they´re barely being touched."
The union has increased activism at several company plants, having workers wave yellow flags to "caution" their employer as to what could be down the road.
While the USWA tries to work out a deal with Bridgestone/Firestone, the rest of the tire industry is watching. In April, the union chose the Nashville, Tenn.-based firm as its "target company" for 2000 negotiations, hoping to set a pattern for the industry.
Bargaining committees for Local 1155 and the rest of the Bridgestone/Firestone locals plan to meet in St. Louis, where master talks have been based, to "assess where we are" and decide what the next steps are," the spokesman said.
"There´s a big gulf between us right now," he said. "The next few weeks should be interesting."