From Tire Review
Negotiations between Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire (BFNAT) and the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) continue, even as the union makes plan to strike eight BFNAT plants where it represents hourly workers.
A series of strike preparation meetings have been or will be held at USWA locals representing the plants. The first meetings were held Mar. 8 and the last are scheduled for Mar. 22. The terms of its agreement to continue working under its previous master contract with BFNAT require the USWA to provide five days’ notice before going on strike, so it is unlikely any job action will occur near-term.
The union expected BFNAT to follow the contract it negotiated with Goodyear as the pattern for the North American industry. Instead, BFNAT refused to accept the terms of the Goodyear deal. Negotiations broke down in November 2003, and no talks were held until this past December. Even after the nearly 12-month break, both sides appear very far apart.
“In negotiations, the company still resists our demands that it grow and invest in our plants in order to secure the future of our plants and increase their share of new and higher margin products,” said USWA executive vice president John Sellers in a statement issued Mar. 8. “There’s no way that our members will accept a contract that allows BFNAT to export our jobs and replace our production with imports and goods produced at non-union plants.”
The USWA claims BFNAT intends to shift tire production off-shore, and is “starving” the U.S. plants “of capital,” the statement said.
“It appears that BFNAT is looking to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the North American market,” said Sellers. “The Goodyear and Michelin master agreement promise our members no plant closures and guaranteed employment levels.”
According to the USWA, BFNAT has labeled as “distressed” its industrial rubber products plant in Noblesville, Ind., its OTR tire plant in Bloomington, Ill., and its tube plant in Russellville, Ark., meaning they are unprofitable and could be closed.
For its part, BFNAT says it remains optimistic that a new deal could be reached, but would not commit to maintaining the three distressed plants. BFNAT says it wants a fair contract, but one that allows the company to be successful.
While Bridgestone Corp. posted a 2004 profit of $1.1 billion and BFNAT’s parent, Bridgestone Americas Holding, had 2004 profits of $183 million, BFNAT lost an undisclosed amount for the year. The unit has not posted a profit since the recall of August 2000.
Despite the unit’s financial condition, based on statements made by the Steelworkers, the two sides remain far apart. The major sticking points appears to be long-term job security and wage/benefit concessions BFNAT is seeking, according to USWA.
In its Solidarity News memo to members issued Mar. 8, the USWA said: “The company is refusing to make long-term commitments to our plants, despite their plans to do so about everywhere else, from Asia to South America.
“By refusing to commit to grow, invest in and bring new high-margin products to our plants, the company is telling us that it will not guarantee us our jobs and it can close any of our plants whenever it wants. The company, likewise, refuses to commit to guaranteed employment levels or guaranteed ticket levels, while it creates new jobs overseas,” the memo stated.
“Without the necessary commitments, there is no way for our North American plants to maintain production, let alone to start producing the more profitable product lines that will provide us with any long-term job security,” the memo said.
“Bridgestone/Firestone appears to want to export our jobs and replace our production with imports and goods produced at non-union plants,” it continued. “Plain and simple: there can be no new contract without the company committing to the future of our plants. Without this, we will have no job security whatsoever.
“The company appears willing to test our resolve. We need to show them that we will do whatever it takes to win a contract that meets the standards of our industry here in the U.S. We owe nothing less to our families, our retirees and the communities where our plants operate,” the memo concluded.
The USWA also said BFNAT is looking for concessions in health benefits for active employees and retirees, overtime and scheduling, seniority, the use of temporary employees, and more.
Strike preparation meetings were held Mar. 8 at BFNAT plants in Des Moines, Iowa, Russellville and LaVergne, Tenn. Meetings are slated for Mar. 10 at Warren County, Tenn., Mar. 13 at Bloomington, Mar. 15 at Oklahoma City, Okla., Mar. 19 at Akron, and Mar. 22 at Noblesville.
Click here to view the rest of today’s headlines.