The United Steelworkers of America union has made Goodyear its target company for master contract negotiations this year.
The USWA-which represents about 20,000 workers at Goodyear tire and rubber plants in North America-claims the tire maker is asking for $915 million in wage and benefits concessions over a three-year span from workers and retirees.
Goodyear's position as the largest employer of Steelworkers and the union's decision to make job security via investment in North American plants its top bargaining priority were significant factors in the decision, said John Sellers, USWA executive vice president in charge of the Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference.
The Akron-based tire maker was chosen as the target company-one with which the union sets a bargaining issue pattern or ``level playing field'' traditionally followed by the other tire makers-over its top global competitors Michelin North America Inc and Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS), which was the target company in 2000.
The union said it strongly rejects financially troubled Goodyear's plans to close U.S. facilities and service the North American tire market with tires built abroad.
``Labor costs are not the root of Goodyear's problems,'' Mr. Sellers said. ``The other companies in the industry operate under the pattern agreement and make money.''
Goodyear opened up its books to the union prior to the official start of negotiations March 13. The company also stated last month it looked forward to being targeted and thus help set the industry's contract standards, and echoed those sentiments after hearing of the union's decision.
``Goodyear applauds the USWA decision and looks forward to the dialogue that will be necessary to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,'' the firm said in a statement.
Although the company and union bring different perspectives to the bargaining table, both sides recognize the ``magnitude of the task ahead,'' said Jim Allen, Goodyear director of global labor relations. ``We're all aware of Goodyear's financial situation.
``We need to focus on solutions that will assist the company's recovery process.''
Job security and North American plant investment are at the top of the USWA's bargaining priority list, which also includes medical and drug costs, pension funding and neutrality.
Union leaders at locals staffing BFS and Michelin's Uniroyal Goodrich tire and rubber plants expressed disappointment at their companies not being targeted.
Bob Bianchi, president of USWA Local 310 in Des Moines, Iowa, said the BFS bargaining team wanted the firm to be designated because it believed the Steelworkers' hard work was instrumental in the company's return to profitability. William Hart, president of Local 753 in Opelika, Ala., said the Uniroyal Goodrich policy committee thought the same thing, ``given that we are a successful component'' of Michelin's North American operations.
Contract discussions with the target usually become the focus of USWA negotiators while talks with other firms are adjourned. Union employees at each company's tire and rubber plants likely will work on day-to-day extensions after their contracts expire while negotiations continue.
Goodyear's six-year master contract with the USWA expires April 19, as does its pact with two Dunlop tire plants. The company's agreement with Kelly-Springfield unit workers lapses July 6.
About 6,000 Steelworkers at eight BFS U.S. facilities are covered by contracts expiring April 23. The master agreement covers six plants, while separate pacts exist for USWA Local 787 in Bloomington, Ill., and Local 1155 in Warren County, Tenn.
The contract for Michelin's three unionized Uniroyal Goodrich plants-covering about 4,000 workers-also lapses April 23.
The USWA also has major contracts with Yokohama Tire Corp. and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. to work out later this year. The six-year pact between Yokohama and USWA Local 1023-whose members staff its Salem, Va., tire factory-expires July 23. The three-year deal between Cooper and Local 207 at the firm's Findlay, Ohio, facility lapses Oct. 31.