PITTSBURGH (April 20, 2004) — The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) is taking public its mission to get Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) back to the bargaining table and preserve manufacturing jobs with the company.
The union has begun an advertising and leaflet campaign aimed at BFS customers and community people, urging them to pressure the company to negotiate a new labor contract. Messages in ads and handbills say the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker refuses to provide for job security and plant investment in its contract proposals, and this stance would “wipe out our jobs, hurt our families and cause pain throughout our communities.”
The USWA started running radio spots the week of April 12 in several locations, including Nashville, the headquarters of Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.; Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa; Oklahoma City; Bloomington, Ill.; and Akron, according to a spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based union. Full-page newspaper ads have run or will run in the future, he said.
Union members also are passing out leaflets at auto races and car shows, including the New York Auto Show, which began Easter weekend, the spokesman said.
“We're talking about the impact of the loss of manufacturing jobs, the impact on families and communities,” he said. “It's not just our jobs, but the American way of life. Fewer jobs mean less of a tax base and fewer quality paychecks being spent in those communities.”
Company and union officials haven't sat at the bargaining table since mid-November, when the USWA broke off talks following the company's last proposal. BFS's offer didn't follow many elements of the Goodyear/USWA agreement reached in September, a pact the union envisioned as the tire industry pattern.
The three-year Goodyear contract addressed job security and North American plant investment issues. The BFS proposal ignored those and several other items from the pattern, including restrictions on imports, guaranteed production ticket and employment levels, neutrality recognition and subcontracting restrictions, the USWA said.
The union called the concessionary offer an “outrage” and an “insult” to its members.
BFS has disputed claims it doesn't care about U.S. manufacturing. The tire maker has invested more than $257 million since 1999 at its five largest U.S. tire plants organized by the USWA, a company spokesman said. A pending bill which may provide tax relief to existing businesses in the state of Oklahoma also may pave the way to new investments at the firm's Oklahoma City plant, he said.
The firm views the industry pattern set by the Goodyear pact as a starting point for negotiations rather than an end-all. And BFS understands the importance of the manufacturing jobs—some which pay more than $30 per hour including wage and benefits—to the communities in which they're based, the spokesman said. “We want to do everything we can to make products for the U.S. in the U.S.,” he said.
Both sides have expressed a desire to restart negotiations. But the USWA spokesman reiterated that the offer from last fall doesn't serve as a basis to begin discussions. “I don't see us coming back with that proposal on the table,” he said.
BFS isn't ruling out any possibilities, but believes the ball is in the union's court in that regard. “It never makes sense to counter your own counteroffer,” the company spokesman said. “We'd be negotiating with ourselves. If the union leaders don't like what we've presented, they can counter it. Right now it's a stalemate.”
April 23 will mark one year since the BFS and the USWA extended their three-year master contract. The extension can be terminated with five days' written notice.
The two sides began contract talks in the spring of 2003, then put them on hold while the union focused on the Goodyear negotiations. The master agreement affects about 6,000 BFS employees at eight U.S. tire and rubber facilities.
The USWA also must negotiate a new master deal with Michelin North America Inc., which employs about 4,000 union workers at three U.S. Uniroyal Goodrich unit plants.