Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit and the United Steelworkers (USW) have reached a three-year tentative master contract agreement covering workers at three tire facilities.
Negotiators for the two sides reached the accord at about 8:30 p.m. July 25, after the previous contract-which expired at midnight July 22-had been extended twice.
A letter to members on a USW Web site from the union's negotiating committee said the agreement was reached ``after many long days and nights of bargaining.'' Earlier in the week, the committee said progress was slow and BFG was still asking for major cuts in its proposals, but discussions were moving forward enough to extend the talks past the deadline.
The tentative agreement meets the terms the company believes are necessary to retain its competitive posture and to help ensure the viability of the BFG plants going forward, the company said in a statement.
Ron Hoover, USW vice president and head of the union's Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, said the union believes it achieved its industry goals-protecting retiree health care benefits and securing additional job protection measures for its active members.
BFG announced June 11 it would reduce tire production at its Opelika, Ala., plant by 30 to 40 percent beginning in the fourth quarter and indefinitely lay off 30 to 40 percent of the work force there.
Both the USW and BFG said details of the tentative pact won't be disclosed until the 3,400 members at the three sites-located in Tuscaloosa and Opelika, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind.-have reviewed and voted on it. A ``majority of the majority'' will be required for contract ratification, meaning 50 percent plus one vote overall and two of the three locals must vote to accept the tentative agreement for it to become a contract.
Typically, informational meetings and ratification votes take place within two weeks of the announced tentative agreement. Dates for the meetings and ratification votes haven't been announced yet.
The Steelworkers last month designated BFG as the target company in establishing a bargaining pattern in the tire industry.
The USW also is negotiating master contracts-which also expired July 22-with Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS). Goodyear and the union extended their master contract on a day-to-day basis July 18. Either party can terminate the extension by providing 72-hour notice. The USW represents about 12,600 hourly employees at 12 Goodyear tire and rubber product plants.
But the Steelworkers rejected BFS's offer to extend their master contract because the company did not want to include the job security portions of the pact. BFS plans to close its Oklahoma City tire plant this year.
``Decisions about plant staffing, production and other items must be based on market conditions and should not be guaranteed by contract nor by contract extensions,'' BFS said in a statement. ``Guaranteeing conditions such as these is incompatible with our need to make our North American tire production facilities globally competitive and profitable.''
The company's extension offer for a separate agreement with workers at its Warren County, Tenn., tire plant also was rejected, but was accepted for pacts at the Bloomington, Ill., off-the-road tire plant and with the maintenance group at the LaVergne, Tenn., facility, BFS said. Those extensions can be canceled with five days written notice.
The two sides agreed to recess negotiations until the pattern is established, and BFS acknowledged that with the exception of job security language and a few other issues, the terms of the contract would stay in effect, the USW said.
The union represents about 6,000 hourly workers at eight BFS sites.
The USW hasn't decided yet whether to focus on Goodyear or BFS next, a union spokesman said.