Hourly workers staffing Michelin North America (Canada) Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire unit in Kitchener went on strike at midnight May 31 after their contract lapsed, claiming the company is asking for too many concessions.
About 1,000 members of United Steelworkers of America Local 677 walked out after talks leading up to the deadline proved to be fruitless. Union officials first saw the company's proposal early on May 31, then said the concessionary language needed to be removed for the contract to be considered, according to Paul Shrum, Local 677 vice president.
When the two sides reconvened later and those issues hadn't been addressed, the USWA negotiators walked out, he said. Negotiations between the two sides started March 31, he said.
The strike has idled the Kitchener facility-which produces passenger and light truck radial tires-as of June 3. Michelin didn't address when or how it will restart production.
The plant's capacity is about 17,000 tires per day, according to Tire Business' 2003 Global Tire Report. A lengthy strike could curtail about 20 percent of Michelin's Canadian production, the USWA claims.
Michelin wants to cut its labor costs in Kitchener by 15 percent, Mr. Shrum said. Some of the areas in which it's seeking to slash costs are health care, job subcontracting, implementation of a two-tiered wage system and future retiree benefits, said Wayne Fraser, director of United Steelworkers of America District 6, which covers Ontario and several other Atlantic provinces.
The major issue is health care, mainly because the company is asking the workers to contribute to something they haven't before, given Canada's socialized health care programs, Mr. Shrum said. Hospital costs are covered by the program, though the company is responsible for room upgrades, ambulance costs and taxes, he said.
Prescription drugs need to be paid for, too, but the Kitchener workers have never had co-payments for those, either, he said.
``It wasn't surprising they'd come after some of our health care provisions, but we didn't expect it at this level,'' Mr. Shrum said. ``We've always believed this plant was making money.''