The union local strike at the Uniroyal Goodrich plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., is based on guts, stubbornness and emotion. Not logic. The union members are convinced they're standing up to a foreign giant that couldn't care less about their fate. David vs. Goliath, with the proud union members swinging the slingshot.
Their vision is understandable. But no matter how bold their stance, they don't have a chance.
Even if labor peace is restored to the Groupe Michelin-owned facility—and stranger things have happened—the plant is doomed. In fact, betting on the long-term survival of any of the three United Steelworkers of America-represented, Michelin-owned factories in the U.S. isn't a good bet in the long run.
Given a choice, Michelin prefers to run its plants without union representation. The union at the three U.S. facilities was unwanted baggage that came along when Michelin bought Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. in 1989.
The company finds it easier to manage its plants without having to deal with a union and all the rigmarole that goes with it.
Like at Fort Wayne, where a siege mentality results in bizarre labor-management conflicts. Squabbles have erupted over the banning of beverage cups at work stations; the wearing of T-shirts showing Michelin symbol Bibendum in an R-rated pose; suspensions over alleged delaying tactics by workers ordered to operate machinery; and of course, the Great Grill Controversy, when the company installed (and management later removed) outdoor grills at the plant after allegedly failing to fulfill a 1991 promise to open a production workers' cafeteria similar to that used by salaried employees.
No, Michelin didn't ask for union representation, and can live without it. With its new C3M plants, which use fewer employees than the older union-organized facilities, Michelin can avoid unions.
Before the situation deteriorated to a strike, the Fort Wayne union members should have contemplated how many of the Michelin plants in the U.S. and Canada, after a quarter-century of operation, are represented by the union.
Easy number to add up. Zero.
The Fort Wayne workers have shown they are willing to become martyrs for principle. Michelin won't hesitate to give them that chance.