ST. LOUIS (Sept. 1, 2000)—Bargaining between the United Steelworkers of America and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. intensified the week of Aug. 27 as the two sides tried to hammer out a new contract before a Sept. 2 strike deadline.
As of Sept. 1, the company and union had not agreed to a contract or a new extension that would avert the second strike against Bridgestone/Firestone in the past six years. The USWA gave a 14-day notice Aug. 18 that it would terminate the contract extensions under which 8,000 of its members at nine company tire and non-tire plants had been working.
The extensions were to expire Sept. 2 at 12:01 a.m.
Since notice to was given to Bridgestone/ Firestone, negotiations have broadened in scope and depth and have continued "around the clock," according to a USWA spokesman. The company gave the union a proposal late Aug. 28, he said, and the union reviewed it and made a counter-offer Aug. 29.
Since then, both sides have been making adjustments to the proposals and bringing them back for discussions, the spokesman said. Though no specific details about the issues were available, he did say that significant progress had been made in several areas, including delving into some "plant-specific problems."
But the spokesman added Aug. 31 that "some crucial issues have not been addressed."
In rejecting Bridgestone/Firestone´s Aug. 15 proposal and answering with the extension termination notice, the USWA said the offer "fell short of resolving critical issues identified by the membership."
The union is seeking an agreement that bolsters wages and pensions, but also has stressed the need for improvements in working conditions and other benefits-related issues, including medical insurance co-payments and deductibles, health and safety, seniority rights, holiday pay and mandatory overtime.
The two sides have been negotiating since March, and in April the USWA chose Bridgestone/Firestone as its target company for pattern bargaining.
But the recall of 6.5 million 15-inch tires—mostly fitted as original equipment on Ford Motor Co. sport-utility vehicles and light trucks—plus the growing number of lawsuits from injuries and deaths allegedly linked to the tires´ failure doesn´t help the company´s financial picture and potential ability to meet the union´s contract demands.
Estimates of the recall´s impact alone have been in the $350 million to $500 million range.
The company and union also must get past hard feelings left over from their previous multiplant labor dispute from 1994 to 1996. The United Rubber Workers, which merged with the USWA in 1995, struck for 10 months beginning in 1994 and took another 17 months after returning to work to get a new deal with the company by 1996.
As for the current negotiations, the USWA spokesman said Aug. 31 that they likely would go down to the deadline.
"It should be a nail-biter," he said. "There´s progress being made, but there´s still a long way to go."