Goodyear and the United Steelworkers (USW) union may be headed toward a bargaining crossroad in their ongoing struggle to reach a contract agreement.
Goodyear is resisting being labeled as the next ``target'' in the union's tire maker negotiations, and the USW appears to be losing patience with talks that haven't progressed much since they began earlier this year.
Negotiators for Goodyear and the Steelworkers 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 with the goal of setting an industry-wide bargaining pattern, and BFG and the USW reached a three-year agreement in early August.
However, Goodyear's chief negotiator Jim Allen said the company must achieve a contract that doesn't place it at a ``competitive disadvantage.'' Mr. Allen said that when Goodyear was selected as the initial target in 2003, the bargaining pattern wasn't followed by Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) and Michelin.
He stressed that it's 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 has maintained that it doesn't view pattern bargaining to mean that every piece of a contract is copied exactly by each agreement that follows it. The union believes it means that in the areas of wages, benefits for active members and retirees, and overall company costs, the pacts among the Big Three tire makers will be comparable.
As for targeting Goodyear, it is one of the union's largest employers, and the USW wants to reach a contract agreement as soon as possible, a Steelworkers spokesman said. ``We want to get down to business in all our negotiations,'' he said. ``We don't want prolonged negotiations like we had in 2003.''
The union has labeled Akron-based Goodyear's proposals as ``cut and gut,'' claiming the tire maker is asking for significant 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, the USW spokesman said.
The USW also believes Goodyear is forgetting the sacrifices the union 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 spokesman said. ``(Goodyear needs) to come to the table with a clear memory.
``We're not enamored with the fact that they plan to cut more jobs and cause more pain for our retirees, while they run off to China or another place with domestic production,'' the spokesman added. ``We think it's a spineless position on their part.''
The union 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 met through the end of the week of Sept. 11-15, at which time the union was to 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. The USW represents more than 12,000 workers at 12 company tire and rubber product plants.
BFS said earlier this month that the existence of a pattern agreement won't alter its focus on attaining a contract that makes sense for the need and challenges of its business. The Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker employs about 6,000 USW members at eight company facilities.