Sometimes when you´re not getting any breaks, you´ve got to make your own.
To its credit, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. did just that by settling on new three-year contracts with the United Steelworkers of America. After nearly six months of talks, the parties averted strikes at nine locations, pending ratification of the deal by the 8,000 Steelworkers at those plants.
What makes the pact huge for Bridgestone/Firestone is it provides peace on one front while guns are blazing everywhere else. The tire maker couldn´t afford to focus too long on a labor dispute while facing the Firestone ATX and Wilderness AT recall, numerous lawsuits and congressional hearings.
The USWA knew that, and shrewdly gave a two-week contract extension termination (read: strike) notice just nine days after the recall was announced.
Knowing the reality of its situation better than anyone, the company didn´t panic. Despite having had one proposal rejected by union negotiators, it made another. And both sides worked together up until the Sept. 2 deadline, making adjustments to each others´ offers and coming back with their own, the way bargaining should be.
I thought the union would strike given the history of the two sides´ relationship, especially over the past decade. But I hoped that if there was progress being made at deadline time, the bargaining committees would keep working rather than drop the glass slipper.
Well, that´s what they did. By the wee hours of Labor Day, there was an agreement. And because neither side wanted a strike, the recent bad blood between Bridgestone/Firestone and the USWA was put on the back burner.
The USWA obtained what looks like a very good agreement, with improvements in most areas, including some long-sought-after work condition issues. The union forced talks to intensify by setting a deadline, yet didn´t back the company into a corner or make an agreement untenable.
And Bridgestone/Firestone did what it had to do: pro-actively avoid a problem before it developed. Perhaps the firm wishes it could do that now in other areas of concern.
Will it be that simple with Bridgestone/Firestone´s other troubles? Gimme a break!
Dawson is an RPN reporter.