TOPEKA, Kan. (Aug. 2, 2002)—Union workers at Goodyear's Topeka large tire plant approved a company proposal July 23 to implement schedule changes and wage deferrals, making the facility “more attractive” for investment.
United Steelworkers of America Local 307's acceptance of the plan—by a 842-358 vote—seemed like an impossibility nine days earlier. On July 14, Local 307 members rejected the proposal by a 459-434 vote.
Jerry Ebert, the local's vice president, said the key to the vote change was getting information to the membership. The union had more informational meetings and explained what the approval of the plan could mean to the plant and its workers, he said.
Goodyear is planning a $120 million expansion that would add technology and updated machinery for producing radial truck tires and a new two-piece mining tire. Initial reports have linked the project to Topeka, and the company has received funding approval from the state of Kansas to obtain up to $10 million in bonds for every $50 million invested.
But nothing is definite at this point, a Goodyear spokesman said. The company board of directors will make the final decision on the expansion site, and there is no timeline for an announcement.
Union approval of the firm's proposal does pave the way for a potential investment in Topeka by making the plant more competitive, the spokesman said. The contractual changes would include a 65-cent wage-increase deferment until 2004 for raises scheduled for this year and some occasional required overtime.
Workers will receive stock options in 2002 as a buffer for the deferments. The overtime would mean an employee would put in an extra four to eight hours during a given week by working an additional four hours before or after the regular shift. Production employees would receive at least two weeks notice before having to work overtime.
All the changes are contingent on the Topeka plant getting the new project, Mr. Ebert said. And if it does, the union will work with the company in determining the most feasible overtime schedule after an in-plant study is conducted, he said.
Before the first vote, many Local 307 members didn't like the proposed schedule changes, and with the recent performance of Goodyear shares, weren't thrilled with the stock option, Mr. Ebert said.
Since contract negotiations are coming up in 2003, the union also would have liked to wait until next year to discuss any alterations to its agreement, he said.
But with a $120 million expansion on the table, and the company wanting to make a decision this year, the workers needed to understand it wouldn't happen unless the tire maker believed the 58-year-old Topeka facility was competitive, he said.
“This is an old plant and we have some old machines,” Mr. Ebert said. “It's a good opportunity to produce tires and meet market demand and keep up with the times.”
The project's location in Topeka also means better job security for the people working there, according to the Local 307 vice president.
Goodyear officials were disappointed after the first vote, and began weighing other options, the spokesman said. But after the union approached plant management to have another vote, the company believed the outcome would be different.
“As far as we know now, there's a good possibility this project will be here in Topeka,” the spokesman said.
“We've worked well with legislators on the state and local level to get funding in place. The next step is board (of directors) approval.”
Mr. Ebert said that if approval does come soon, new machinery could be inside the factory before the end of the year. “We're confident now, and believe this is the best plant for the project,” he said. “But we can't be definite before it's final.”
The factory has an estimated daily production capacity of 8,100 tires.