PITTSBURGH—The United Steelworkers of America has initiated strike preparations at union locals at three U.S. Bridgestone/Firestone plants and is planning strike training sessions at five other BFS facilities.
BFS´ master contract with the USWA expired in April 2003, and 6,000 employees at the eight unionized BFS operations have worked under a day-to-day extension since then. Either side can terminate the extension by issuing a five-day notice, the USWA said.
A Bridgestone/Firestone spokesman said the two sides continue to talk in St. Louis. "As long as you´re talking and exchanging ideas...you have to be hopeful that you can reach a new, good compromise that´s in everyone´s best interest," he said.
The USWA indicated it believes the talks are not producing results.
"In negotiations, the company still resists our demands that it grow and invest in our plants in order to secure the future of our plants and increase their share of new and higher margin products," said John Sellers, USWA executive vice president. "There´s no way that our members will accept a contract that allows BFS to export our jobs and replace our production with imports and goods produced at non-union plants."
Unlike Goodyear and Michelin´s BFGoodrich unit that have made long-term commitments to U.S. manufacturing, BFS has not committed to make investments in Steelworker-represented facilities, the USWA said.
"It appears that BFS is looking to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the North American market," Sellers said. "The Goodyear and BFGoodrich master agreements promise our members no plant closures and guaranteed employment levels."
BFS has been clear with the union from the start of talks that the Goodyear contract doesn´t work for Bridgestone/Firestone, the company spokesman said. He said job security guarantees are unrealistic, and security depends primarily on the performance of the business.
"We´re different companies, we have different strengths and weaknesses, different challenges," he said of Goodyear and BFGoodrich. "We have consistently said we want a contract that makes sense for our business."
The spokesman said BFS has invested about $257 million in five U.S. plants since 1999 with other projects ongoing. "We´re constantly reinvesting in our plants because we have to."
The strike preparations began at union locals in Des Moines, Iowa; LaVergne, Tenn.; and Russellville, Ark. Strike preparation training sessions will take place in the next two weeks at locals in Akron; Noblesville, Ind.; Bloomington, Ill.; Oklahoma City; and Warren County, Tenn.