Labor disputes have been a part of rubber industry history dating back to the early 20th century. The United Rubber Workers union was formed in 1935, and labor strife was particularly common during the URW's early years.
A strike at Goodyear in Akron in February 1936 resulted in a picket line that surrounded the entire 11-mile perimeter of the Goodyear complex, the longest picket line in U.S. history.
Just four months later, when Sherman Dalrymple, the first URW president, went to Gadsden, Ala., he was savagely beaten when trying to address a rally to recruit members at the Goodyear plant there. URW members also were active in the sit-down strikes of 1936.
In the past 50 years, circumstances have led to fewer traditional strikes, but one of those battles led to the URW becoming part of the United Steelworkers.
In every print issue leading up to our special 50th Anniversary edition on Aug. 9, we'll explore a new list of 5 things that have changed or are changing the industry. When our 50th anniversary issue arrives, you'll have a total of 50 things that define the last five decades.
1. 1976 strike: Who's thirsty for COLA?
Nicknamed "The Bomber," Peter Bommarito clearly was the most dynamic of the six presidents who reigned over the URW during its nearly six-decade history. He was president from 1966-81, and never was shy about leading his members on strikes.
Heading into negotiations in 1976 with the then-Big Four tire makers—Goodyear, Firestone, B.F. Goodrich and Uniroyal—Bommarito was intent on catching up with economic losses incurred during 1973 bargaining. Those talks came under wage control guidelines set by the Nixon administration, with wage increases capped at about 5 percent.
But when those wage caps came off, spikes in inflation quickly erased all URW member gains. And when the tire makers refused to reopen talks and insisted the URW abide by the contract, the URW president came into 1976 looking for big gains. High on the list was getting a cost of living allowance, or COLA, to safeguard workers from inflation.
When bargaining broke down in April, about 60,000 URW members struck 47 plants in 21 states. The number grew to about 70,000 when other contracts expired.
In the end it took federal intervention to bring the two sides to an agreement, but not before the URW increased its total compensation package by about 35 percent, the largest by any union in 1976. COLA was a key part of the package, and was ferociously protected in bargaining over the years.