AKRON (May 2, 2016) — Today's United Steelworkers (USW) union is different from a generation ago when the Pittsburgh-based trade organization burst onto the tire industry scene by merging with the United Rubber Workers (URW).
While termed a merger, it was really an acquisition, in that the larger USW was brought in to save the URW during a time of deep labor strife. The Akron-based Rubber Workers union was in the midst of what was termed as the “War of '94” strike against several of the major tire makers, but most prominently Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS).
The strike saw BFS and others — including then-Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp. — bring in replacement workers as the companies were intent on securing major contract changes and were willing to endure prolonged work stoppages.
The USW was seen as a militant group that could help the URW—which had depleted is strike fund—by contributing the deep pockets necessary to stand up to the tire companies. Without the Steelworkers' involvement, many former URW members said they believe a number of their plants wouldn't be around today.
Today's USW isn't nearly as militant in the traditional sense — not that it isn't willing to go on strike if necessary — but now the union has turned its resources more toward other causes, especially in lobbying against trade agreements and bringing petitions before the International Trade Commission to fight what it sees as illegal dumping from countries such as China.