More than 15,000 union workers at 16 Goodyear tire and rubber product sites walked off the job at 1 p.m. Oct. 5, saying the company left them with no other option after lengthy contract negotiations proved fruitless.
The total includes more than 12,000 United Steelworkers (USW) members at 12 U.S. manufacturing plants covered by the three-year master contract that expired July 22. The workers had been working on a day-to-day extension since July 18, but on Oct. 2 the USW gave the Akron-based tire maker the required 72-hour notice that it was terminating the extension.
Hourly employees at four Goodyear sites in Canada also are participating in the strike.
The two sides have been far apart on many issues since beginning contract talks in June, particularly on job security and retiree health care. Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of the union's Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, said the union would stay at the bargaining table as long as progress was being made, but there was ``no sense continuing these talks if Goodyear is intent on gutting our contract and closing our plants.''
Goodyear's offers declined to give full plant protection to all 12 U.S. sites, and the union said it won't give in on the potential for closure at one or more plants-most likely among the Gadsden, Ala., Tyler, Texas, and Fayetteville, N.C., tire facilities. The USW said it already gave up a lot in the 2003 master contract negotiations, which led to the closure of the firm's unionized Huntsville, Ala., factory.
That deal also provided the company with much needed financial flexibility as union members agreed to wage, pension and health care concessions, and each local worked closely with plant management to increase productivity and enhance efficiencies, the union said.
``We cannot allow additional plant closures after the sacrifices we made three years ago to help this company survive,'' Mr. Hoover said. ``While more work can be done, Goodyear has rebounded and other stakeholders have been rewarded accordingly. Now the company seems determined to only take more away from our members.''
The USW also claims the tire maker wants to eliminate its responsibility for retiree health care, putting the bulk of the burden on the backs of the retirees-and likely the active members-themselves.
But Goodyear said the union rejected a comprehensive proposal which would improve the company's competitive position while maintaining a ``substantial commitment to manufacturing in North America.'' The company's final offer included provisions for job security, significant investments for USW-represented plants going forward, a company-funded plan to secure retiree medical benefits and restoration of prior pension service credit, Goodyear said.
The expectations of each side on the major issues, however, have been vastly different since talks started this summer, and that's where negotiations stalled. ``We simply cannot accept a contract that knowingly creates a competitive disadvantage vs. our foreign-owned competition and increases our cost disadvantage vs. imports,'' said Jim Allen, Goodyear' chief negotiator, in a statement issued shortly after the strike began.
Goodyear back in June announced it would cut its North American production of private label tires by about a third over the next year, which could affect four of the plants where the workers are now on strike. The USW supports Goodyear's focus on higher-margin tires and realizes the demand in the marketplace for them calls for it, a union spokesman said.
But the USW also believes Goodyear can make and sell those tires and pay its organized workers. ``We want to make those tires,'' he said. ``The company has the ability to adjust production and run our plants at full capacity.''
Goodyear has prepared for the possibility of the strike, Mr. Allen said. ``We remain willing to continue to bargain with the Steelworkers. In the meantime we have implemented our strike contingency plans at the affected facilities and are working to minimize impact on our customers.''
The company will meet the requirements of its customers through available inventory, imports, production at non-affected plants and production at affected plants via the use of salaried workers, a Goodyear spokesman said.
The now expired master contract between the USW and Goodyear covers workers at eight North American Tire plants and four Engineered Products sites. The tire manufacturing locations are in Akron; Gadsden, Ala.; Buffalo, N.Y., Topeka, Kan.; Tyler, Texas; Danville, Va.; Union City, Tenn.; and Fayetteville, N.C.
The non-tire locations include a molded products site in St. Marys, Ohio; a belt and hose plant in Lincoln, Neb.; a conveyor belting factory in Marysville, Ohio; and a hose product facility in Sun Prairie, Wis.
In addition, the Steelworkers are striking at four Canadian sites: a hose product plant in Collingwood, Ontario; a power transmission belting factory in Owen Sound, Ontario; and logistics and commercial/retread centers in Toronto.
In August, the USW reached a three-year agreement with Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit-the designated industry bargaining target-covering about 3,400 hourly workers at three company plants. No agreement has been reached yet with Bridgestone/Firestone, where about 6,000 USW members work at eight tire and rubber plants.
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Bones of contention
* Plant protection
* Cost-of-living allowance
* Pension contributions
* Retiree health benefits