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Published on September 15, 2009

Pragmatism permeates bargaining

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Opinion

AKRON (Sept. 14, 2009)—There's something unusual in the air. No, it's not the smell of fall with its warm sunny days, cool nights and crimson-colored leaves.

It's something else: Harmony... or maybe simply pragmatism.

Whatever the case, it has been an unusually peaceful and speedy negotiating season between the United Steelworkers (USW) union and thus far two of the U.S.'s three largest tire manufacturers.

There's been little of the emotional volatility and lengthy wrangling of negotiating periods in recent years.

Nor is there any indication that the outcome will be any different with the third company with which the union is negotiating—Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.

With the effects of the ferocious recession ongoing, this clearly is not the year to push too hard or take unusually strong positions. Working together for the betterment of all parties justifiably has taken precedent.

Even the union's highly politicized efforts to curb tire imports from China—which could disrupt Goodyear's, Michelin North America Inc.'s and Bridgestone's supply from that country—haven't derailed the negotiating efforts.

All of this is good news for the U.S. tire industry and for the dealers and distributors selling products made by Goodyear, Michelin and Bridgestone.

With signs pointing toward smooth contract settlements with all three major tire makers, dealers won't have to worry for at least a few more years about whether they will be able to get tires from these companies as a result of a strike.

That was the case three years ago, when 12,000 USW members walked out at 16 unionized Good¬year plants for 86 days. The bitter job action disrupted production and cost the Akron-based tire maker an estimated $30 million to $35 million per week in the fourth quarter of 2006 alone. It forced dealers selling the company's brands to scramble to get tires.

Having a peaceful and productive negotiating season means tire manufacturers can keep their focus on the market and on making their operations profitable. This is doubly important today, as the global economic slump has decimated OE and replacement tire sales.

The smooth negotiations also are good news for union members, who have gained a measure of job security over the next few years, as well as much sought-after cost-of-living increases and improvements in retirement benefits, in the case of Goodyear's tentative contract.

Future negotiations between the union and tire manufacturers with unionized plants may again turn rocky as the forces of globalization and those desiring local manufacturing continue to collide.

But for now, pragmatism rules to the betterment of everyone.

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