Workers at seven Bridgestone/Firestone tire and rubber plants have ratified new contracts with the company, securing the bulk of jobs through July 2006 and ending a two-year stretch of sporadic negotiations.
About 70 percent of hourly employees represented by the United Steelworkers (USW) union approved a master contract running through July 23 of next year in ratification votes held June 28-29 at local sites.
The master contract covers workers at BFS tire facilities in Akron; Des Moines, Iowa; LaVergne, Tenn.; and Oklahoma City; the company's inner tube plant in Russellville, Ark.; and its air spring factory in Noblesville, Ind.
Workers at BFS' Bloomington, Ill., off-the-road tire plant, who have a concurrent but separate agreement with the company, ratified their contract as well. A vote for a separate tentative agreement reached for the maintenance group at the LaVergne plant was scheduled for June 30.
Nashville-based BFS also has an agreement with the hourly work force at its Warren County, Tenn., tire facility, but 85 percent of the nearly 800 USW members there voted down the company's proposal on June 17. Ron Vining, president of USW Local 1155 representing the Warren County workers, said following the vote the local would target a July 15 strike date if the other BFS locals approved their contracts. A five-day notice is required before a walkout.
Mr. Vining has cited the Warren County facility as the company's most profitable and said the company's offer was substandard for what the employees do every day.
For the more than 5,000 USW members at the other seven BFS plants, the highlights of the new contracts include:
* No health care premiums for active and retired workers;
* 90-percent guaranteed staffing levels and production ticket protection;
* A raise in the monthly pension multiplier to $54 per year of service from $50; and
* Distribution of 98 cents per hour of accumulated cost-of-living allowance, with 48 cents restored immediately; 25 cents restored after April 23 of next year; and the balance slated for health care inflation, capital investments and pension funding.
The master contract also includes plant protection-meaning no closures during the life of the agreement-at four of the seven facilities, with the Warren County factory originally in the group as well. The others are in Des Moines, Oklahoma City, Akron and LaVergne.
The other three plants-in Bloomington, Noblesville and Russellville-were designated as ``distressed'' plants, with no job security provisions. BFS also will make minimum capital expenditures of $190 million through 2006 at the protected facilities, according to the contract.
In a statement, BFS said it was satisfied by the results of the voting. ``It has been our goal throughout this process to achieve contracts that are in the best interests of both parties, and we believe this master agreement reflects that goal.
``The new contract increases wages, provides excellent health care with no monthly premiums for active teammates and their families and provides job security with our continued commitment to invest in our U.S. passenger, ag and truck/bus tire plants.''
The contracts line up with master contracts reached previously with Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire units. The hourly BFS employees have been working under day-to-day extensions since the previous three-year contract expired in April 2003.
BFS waited for about six months in 2003 while the Steelworkers completed contract negotiations with Goodyear, the tire industry bargaining target, but most of the two-year delay was due to failure in reaching common ground on several issues, most notably job security and plant protection.