Workers at Bridgestone Americas' unionized tire and rubber product plants have a new four-year master contract in place, essentially completing the 2009 round of negotiations for the Big Three U.S. tire makers.
The company announced Oct. 5 that the contract with the United Steelworkers (USW)which runs through July 27, 2013had been ratified.
The pact covers workers at tire plants in Akron; Des Moines, Iowa; and LaVergne, Tenn., plus a Firestone tube plant in Russellville, Ark.
USW members at tire facilities in Warren County, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ill., have separate deals running concurrent with the master agreement. About 4,500 workers overall are covered by the contracts.
One issue that does remain, however, is cutting costs at Bridgestone's LaVergne, Tenn., truck tire facility to ensure plant security for the term of the contract.
There is a 60-day window following ratification to secure a plan to take costs out, said Ron Hoover, former USW executive vice president, who served as a coordinator for the Bridgestone negotiations.
The company said during talks that a certain level of savings needed to be reached or the plant was in danger of closing, Mr. Hoover said. No decisions have been made yet, but job cuts likely will be part of the plan, he said.
A cost-cutting plan also was approved in Des Moines to help the farm tire plant stay competitive in the agriculture market, including initial buyouts of 27 janitorial positions, Mr. Hoover said.
Twenty buyouts also will be offered at the Akron site, according to the Bridgestone/USW contract.
Bridgestone did not return calls for comment by Tire Business' press time, Oct. 8.
Bridgestone said in a release the goal of the negotiations process was to achieve contracts in the best interests of both parties that allow the company to participate successfully in a fiercely competitive global marketplace. We believe these agreements are reflective of that goal.
Despite the difficult economic times, the USW was able to protect wages and benefits, including preserved health care for active members and retirees and improved coverage for new hires, the union said.
The four-year dealas opposed to the more traditional three yearsgives the union members some additional security, allows more people to grow into the pension protection provided in case the economy continues to struggle and gives more time for new programs to get up and running before the company and union have to go back to the negotiations table, Mr. Hoover said.
Despite there being no target company nor set bargaining pattern for this year's tire industry contract talks, negotiators looked at both the Michelin North America Inc. and Goodyear master contractsratified in August and September, respectivelyfor guidance, Mr. Hoover said.
To a certain extent Bridgestone wanted to cherry-pick as much as the union did, he said.
I'd be disappointed if we didn't look for the good things from other contracts and see if they can work, he said.
Unlike Goodyear and Michelin, Bridgestone kept the defined benefit pension plan for its workers, which is based on years of service. The monthly multiplier will remain at $56 per year of service.
The other two tire companies are transitioning to a defined contribution plan, based on a percentage of pay, for newer hires.
The Bridgestone contract also maintains the cost-of-living allowance (COLA), though workers will not get an increase until the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rises to account for 88 cents already in their checks.
Since last October, the CPI has fallen enough that it doesn't cover that amount, and the company insisted that the 88 cents be paid back before any COLA calculations could go forward, according to Mr. Hoover.
The USW also had sought to include the Warren County and Bloomington contracts into the master pact, as well as agreements with the LaVergne maintenance staff and Kings Mountain, N.C., tire cord plant work force, but there were bigger fish to fry in terms of issues for this deal, he said.
Overall, the union believes the contract negotiations with Bridgestone went well, considering the tough issues they had to work out and, in the case of the LaVergne plant, are still settling, Mr. Hoover said.
Both sides dealt with them in a professional manner, he said. It's good when we can disagree without becoming disagreeable.
The four-year deal between Good-year and the Steelworkers covers about 10,300 workers at seven company tire manufacturing sites, and like the Bridgestone pact, expires July 27, 2013.
The three-year contract between the USW and Michelin's BFGood-rich plants in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind., covers about 2,500 workers and expires July 21, 2012.
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