CINCINNATI (Sept. 12, 2006) — Goodyear would like to see the United Steelworkers (USW) reach a contract agreement with competitor Bridgestone/Firestone before it works out its own deal with the union.
Negotiators for Goodyear and the USW met in Cincinnati after the Labor Day holiday, and on Sept. 6 the union's bargaining committee told the company it was the next “target” in the 2006 round of talks. Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit was designated as the target in June, and BFG and the USW reached a three-year agreement in early August.
However, Goodyear said it must achieve a contract that doesn't place the company at a “competitive disadvantage” and stressed it is important for the tire maker to “see the union's agreement with BFS” before closing its own round of bargaining.
“We have encouraged the Steelworkers to finalize an agreement with Bridgestone/Firestone next, so we can ensure that the pattern established by Michelin will be continued industry-wide,” a Goodyear spokesman said.
The USW, however, has labeled Goodyear's proposals as “cut and gut,” claiming the company is asking for concessions in health care, pension, retiree benefits and job security. Goodyear wants to deny plant closure protection during the contract's life at up to three tire plants, likely those in Gadsden, Ala.; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Tyler, Texas, a union spokesman said.
The union also believes Goodyear is forgetting the sacrifices it made in 2003, when the company's weak financial position forced the USW to agree to a contract that included the closure of a tire plant in Huntsville, Ala. “We bent over backwards to help prevent the company from going belly-up,” the union spokesman said. “(Goodyear needs) to come to the table with a clear memory.”
The USW wants a new labor agreement that is fair and equitable—one that provides job security at all locations and does not sacrifice its retirees, said Kevin Johnsen, the USW's bargaining coordinator for the Goodyear chain. “Our position hasn't changed from the start of these negotiations, nor will it. We don't intend to continue for much longer with meetings that show no real progress.”
The two sides will meet through the end of the week of Sept. 11-15, at which time the union will make an assessment of their progress and see if more drastic action is necessary, the USW spokesman said.
Goodyear's unionized employees have been working on a contract extension since the previous pact expired July 22.