Ken Coss had a thankless task. Since Sept. 27, 1990, Coss has led the Rubber Workers in what has been the worst of times for organized labor. He won the United Rubber Workers presidency by portraying himself as a tough customer, willing to stand up to the tire companies' increasingly stubborn tactics to win concessions from the union. The URW membership embraced Coss' leadership and re-elected him to a second term in 1993.
But Coss and the union found themselves drowning in a sea of contract demands as companies vied to become low-cost producers-or drown themselves. Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s intractable stance on contracts devastated the union and helped push it into a merger with the United Steelworkers of America.
Time must pass before history rules on whether Coss reigned during the Rubber Workers denouement, or at a new beginning for organized labor in the industry.
One thing already is certain: Coss wasn't afraid to pull out all stops to make the best of a bad situation.
Pirelli Group's entrance into U.S. tire manufacturing has been anything but smooth and successful.
Since the company acquired the Armstrong Tire division in 1988 and created Pirelli Armstrong Tire Co., the tire maker has suffered continuous losses, including some severe ones in the last 11/2 years, according to new President Giovanni Ferrario.
The purchase of Armstrong was borne of desperation, when Pirelli, supported by Michelin, lost out in the contest to buy Firestone and took the next best deal.
To date, the assimilation of Armstrong into the Pirelli fold has been something of a disaster, wrought with a severe union squabble, management desertions and the abandonment of whole market segments.
Now, perhaps, things will be different.
Pirelli plans to take the radical step of obtaining a partner for its Armstrong-brand production facility in Nashville, Tenn. It is consolidating research and development functions at its Hanford, Calif., operation and has pledged to cut costs and treat customers better.
It could be the dawn of a new day for Pirelli Armstrong. For the good of the company and its employees, it better be.