Soon all that will remain of the United Rubber Workers in Akron will be the ghosts of the firebrands, the sit-down strikers, the organizers and architects of a union once so powerful it could shut down an entire industry.
The final departure is occurring as the United Steelworkers of America closes the office of the one-time United Rubber Workers in Akron. The merger permitted the Rubber & Plastics Industry Conference, as the Rubber Workers entity now is known, to remain in Akron five years. While a couple of R/PIC officials and staff operated out of Akron, the headquarters and chief of the erstwhile Rubber Workers, John Sellers, are in Pittsburgh.
When the URW agreed to merge with the USWA in 1995, the event played very much like one company combining with another. The URW members, like shareholders, held the votes that decided whether or not to merge; pro- and anti-merger elements campaigned passionately. While it was termed a merger, in reality the bigger entity (Steelworkers) would end up swallowing the smaller group (Rubber Workers).
Today some of the "company-like" elements of the deal have occurred. But in more ways, it ended up differently.
There was no purge of merger opponents by the Steelworkers. If anything, some of the pro-merger people didn´t get all they expected out of their support for the combination.
The Rubber Workers haven´t lost their identity within the union, either. R/PIC still is recognized as the rubber portion of the Steelworkers union.
And the merger didn´t cause a massive layoff to "remove redundancies" of staff, so common when one company buys out another. In fact, most of the dozen or so secretaries at the Akron office are shifting to the USWA office in North Canton—a longer drive for some, but they still have jobs.
The URW was in decline, losing its clout with the tire companies and its war with Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. when the merger was proposed. The way things turned out, the ghosts of Rubber Workers past probably wouldn´t be displeased.
Noga is editor of Rubber & Plastics News.