Union workers rallied at Bridgestone/Firestone's North American headquarters Dec. 16, demonstrating their displeasure with having no contract as the Christmas holidays begin.
Contract negotiations between the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and BFS haven't occurred since mid-November, when the USWA walked away from negotiations following the company's Oct. 27 proposal. The union labeled the offer an outrage and ``an insult to our members.''
The rally involved about 400 Steelworkers and members of supporting unions, who marched about a mile down Elm Hill Pike in Nashville to Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. headquarters, said Larry Odum, mobilization coordinator for USWA Local 1055 in LaVergne, Tenn. Local 1055 is one of the eight U.S. locals representing about 6,000 workers affected by the master contract with BFS.
During the hour-long rally, several speakers-mainly union and political officials-talked about the need to preserve manufacturing jobs in North America. The union believes BFS imports more than 20 percent of its tires for the North American market and doesn't want to see that figure increase.
The tire maker disputes any union claims that it doesn't care about U.S. manufacturing. A company spokesman pointed out that since 1999 the firm has invested $257 million at its five largest U.S. tire plants represented by the USWA.
The union's biggest problem with the BFS proposal is it doesn't follow many elements of the tire industry pattern agreement reached in September with Goodyear, Mr. Odum said. The three-year contract with Goodyear did address North American plant investment and job security for production workers.
BFS's offer ignored several other items from the Goodyear agreement, including restrictions on imports, guaranteed ticket and employment levels, neutrality recognition during organizing campaigns and subcontracting restrictions, the union said.
The USWA said that, as presented, the proposal also would:
* Give BFS the right to hire up to 10 percent of the work force as temporary employees;
* Eliminate cost-of-living allow-ances for 2003; and
* Implement several health care concessions, including premium hikes, increased deductibles and the elimination of retiree medical benefits for new hires.
The company, however, sees the industry pattern as a starting point for negotiations, not an end-all. ``We need to work out a contract that specifically addresses our strengths and weaknesses,'' the BFS spokesman said. ``We're not Goodyear. We operate under a different set of circumstances.''
The top production jobs at unionized plants pay more than $30 per hour including benefits, and those jobs are important to the communities where they're based, he said.
``To ensure the bulk of those jobs stay in the U.S., both sides need to sit down and find common ground,'' the spokesman said. ``We want a deal that's good for the workers but allows the company to be successful.''
The union has insisted since breaking off talks that the company's proposal was far off the mark and couldn't serve as a basis for a new pact. It is waiting for BFS to come up with a new offer that follows the pattern, Mr. Odum said. No discussions with company officials were held in conjunction with the rally, and no bargaining sessions are planned.
``They'll have to make some changes before we go back to the table,'' he said. ``If they're not willing to do that, (the non-contract status) could go on for a long time.''
However, BFS officials believe they put a competitive proposal out there and the ball is now in the union's court.
``The offer is still on the table,'' the spokesman said. ``If we counter our own proposal, we're in a position of negotiating with ourselves. That's no way to get an agreement.
``The union needs to say what they do want and make their own counterproposal.''
In addition to the Nashville rally, the USWA locals also have been holding demonstrations and handbilling at plant locations and Firestone Master Care Centers near company sites since contract discussions ended.
The unionized workers at the eight U.S. tire and rubber facilities have been working under extended agreements with the firm since the old three-year pacts expired in April. The extension can be cancelled by giving five days written notice.
No discussion of terminating the extension has taken place.
USWA officials also are in discussions in Knoxville, Tenn., with Michelin North America Inc., which employs about 4,000 union workers at three of the Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker's U.S. Uniroyal Goodrich unit plants.