PITTSBURGH (July 23, 2004) — Unionized workers in negotiations with Michelin North America Inc. believe they “are in for a fight,” after the two sides exchanged master contract proposals the week of July 12.
According to a newsletter from the United Steelworkers of America/BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing Policy Committee, the company summarily rejected the bulk of the union's proposals after talks began July 14 in Pittsburgh. Michelin negotiators then made their own presentation, one calling for an 18-percent reduction in costs at its three unionized BFGoodrich tire plants—in Fort Wayne, Ind., and Opelika and Tuscaloosa, Ala.—and a variety of contract changes to make it happen, the newsletter said.
The proposed changes include a permanent deferral of 50 cents of the current cost-of-living allowance; a two-tiered wage scale that permanently would cap earnings of future hires at 80 percent of current employees; no retiree medical benefits for future hires; reduced vacation time and pay; increased co-pays on medical and drug benefits; and no supplemental workers' compensation, the newsletter said.
Michelin declined to comment, believing it would be inappropriate to discuss any offers while negotiations are taking place, a company spokesman said.
These initial exchanges may foreshadow a difficult set of negotiations in what already has been a long, complex master contract bargaining season for the tire industry. The USWA and the Big Three tire makers began discussions in the spring of 2003, and talks involving Michelin and Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) temporarily were suspended while the union and bargaining target Goodyear took center stage.
The financially strapped Akron tire maker and union negotiated on and off until September, when the two sides finally reached a three-year agreement. The contract addressed job security, plant investment and import restriction issues, plus helped Goodyear meet its cost-cutting goals, particularly with the closure of the Goodyear Dunlop tire plant in Huntsville, Ala.
The USWA then turned its attention to BFS, but discussions broke down in November because the union claimed the company wasn't following the pattern set by the Goodyear contract. The two sides haven't resumed talks.
Michelin and union negotiators met in Knoxville, Tenn., during previous sessions beginning last year, but talks were moved to Pittsburgh, where the USWA is headquartered, at the union's request.
Separate contract talks also are taking place in Pittsburgh between Michelin and the USWA regarding the strike at the company's Kitchener, Ontario, tire plant. About 1,000 Steelworkers walked out June 1, claiming the company was asking for too many concessions in areas such as health care, job subcontracting, a two-tier wage system and future retiree benefits.
About 6,000 workers at eight BFS factories and about 3,400 union members at the BFGoodrich tire facilities have been working