Call them brave. Call them stubborn. Call them out of work. The unionized work force at Goodyear's Kelly-Springfield tire plant in Freeport, Ill., has put pride and principle ahead of reality. The ``associates,'' as the company calls its employees, refused to accept the tire maker's demand to change a contract approved just six months ago.
Now they're paying for their principles.
Goodyear will cut 850 of 1,550 hourly and salaried workers at the factory by phasing out its small bias-ply tire production unit. That's the ``stick'' of the contract renegotiation proposed to United Steelworkers of America Local 745; the carrot was a $40 million investment in the plant, which now won't be made.
Goodyear wanted to eliminate weekly paychecks, cut overtime and alter shift preference provisions and holiday and vacation schedules. Local 745 members overwhelmingly voted against the plan.
What were they thinking? That Goodyear was bluffing?
Virtually any plant that makes bias-ply tires is a candidate for cutbacks in this age of radials. That alone should have given the Steelworkers pause. At the same time, Goodyear has demonstrated during the past couple of years that it won't hesitate to ship production out of the U.S. to improve its competitive situation. Goodyear is a global player and acts like one, no matter where its headquarters is located. Ask the workers at Gadsden, Ala., who will lose their jobs in a reorganization announced the same day as Goodyear's big deal with Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd.
The days of Goodyear's family-like atmosphere and friendly labor relations are gone. The Steelworkers need to accept that fact.