The caution flag is up in the contract race between the United Steelworkers of America and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. If it's followed by the red flag, both sides will lose.
Negotiations are stalled at the company's Warren County, Tenn., tire plant, where the union rejected a six-year deal. Even more ominous, the two sides are far from the finish line in bargaining for six locals covered by the expired master contract and three others that have separate pacts.
At Warren County, the local wants a deal that reflects the master contract, even though the facility isn't part of that process. Bridgestone/Firestone has shown no interest in letting another plant gain that status.
On the master level, the USWA complains the company is demanding concessions in areas such as medical benefits and insurance co-payments and deductibles, and wants to limit seniority rights, reduce holiday pay and maintain mandatory overtime. None of this makes the union very happy, especially considering that Bridgestone/Firestone is doing well financially. Obviously, the company wants to maintain its momentum, and you don't do that unless you can keep labor costs under control.
As one union official put it, "The next few weeks should be interesting."
Both sides need to keep this "not too interesting." The last thing needed is a re-enactment of the 10-month, all-out strike against Bridgestone/Firestone in 1994-1995. A case can be made that the only winner in that dispute was the USWA, into which a broken United Rubber Workers union merged.
A word of caution to both sides: Compromise is a great word.