I joined the Rubber & Plastics News staff April 20, 1998. Eleven days later, my managing editor gave me a release announcing that a Steelworkers local in Des Moines, Iowa, had gone on strike at a tire plant belonging to a company called Titan.
>From that moment, things changed. It became a weekly, sometimes daily rite to update the events along East Market Street in Des Moines, where both the Titan plant and USWA Local 164 office are located, within view of each other. Few issues went by without calls to Local 164 President John Peno or Titan chief Morry Taylor.
East Market was also the site of several shacks the union erected for picketers before the winter of 1998-99. The heated shelters were meant to keep the line-dwellers warm, but they also foreshadowed the strike's eventual length: If those shacks were built to last, they might be needed for the long haul as well.
Now, after nearly 3 1/2 years, the bitter strike-the longest the tire and rubber industry has seen-is over. The local members have a new contract, and over the last few months of 2001 they'll be brought back into the plant.
The price was high for both sides. Local 164 had 670 members in 1998. Now, with many workers gone to other jobs and a large chunk likely to take an early retirement package offered in the agreement, the number could dwindle to 400 or fewer.
Titan has to recover from the financial hits of the strike and an agricultural market that was depressed for a good two years. It already temporarily shut down its Natchez, Miss., tire factory because of poor economic conditions, but now needs to build itself back to a high-potential manufacturing company.
I thought when this strike ended I'd have to beg for something to do. When I'd call Taylor with a query of some sort, invariably he'd ask if it was a slow news day and if we needed him, as usual, to fill our paper. He wasn't far off.
But there's still a Steelworkers strike going on at the Natchez plant. And the transition of the Des Moines site back into a unionized factory is a story in itself, as is Titan's possible financial recovery.
Perhaps the Titan tale isn't over quite yet. Des Moines' area code is still 515, right?
Dawson is an RPN reporter.