PITTSBURGH—Negotiators for Bridgestone/Firestone and the United Steelworkers union planned on working into the weekend of May 28-29 to reach a contract settlement, but whether the talks go any further will be determined by their progress.
That´s because the USW set a negotiating deadline of May 28 with the Nashville, Tenn.-based tire maker and targeted a strike to begin in mid-July if no positive movement toward a new contract was made by that date.
If the two sides continue their deadlock, with no visible progress, the union´s bargaining committee will go back to the locals and the members will begin strike mobilization, a USW spokesman said. The union will serve notice to the company that a July strike is imminent, he said.
Negotiators for the company and union have been bargaining on and off for two years, dating back to April 2003 when their three-year master agreement expired. About 6,000 unionized employees at eight BFS tire and rubber sites have been working on an extension since then.
The latest round of talks began May 16 in St. Louis. BFS is the only one of the major tire companies that had master contracts with the USW—then the United Steelworkers of America—expiring in the 2003 negotiations year without a settlement in place. Some of the main unresolved issues include job security and North American plant investment, import restrictions and neutrality.
In a newsletter to members on a union Web site, the USW´s BFS bargaining committee said, "Despite two years of effort on our part, we are no closer to an agreement now than we were when we started. The company continues to insist on massive concessions and has yet to meaningfully address job security and our other needs."
"Our guys prefer a settlement to anything else and are willing to give it one more shot before taking strike action," the union spokesman said.
A BFS spokesman said the company can´t prevent the union from leaving the negotiations process—it has done it before, he noted—but he said he believes if some common ground is reached, negotiators won´t drop everything and go home.
The company´s position, the spokesman said, hasn´t changed—it´s in everyone´s interests to get a contract that´s good for BFS and the employees, and the firm is willing to stay at the table until it´s done.
The decision to strike isn´t taken lightly, the union said. "We regret this action may become necessary, but we believe we have done everything reasonable possible to reach an agreement," the USW newsletter said.
Talks between BFS and the union have been sporadic for the past two years. Contract negotiations started in the spring of 2003, but after the then-USWA designated Goodyear as the industry bargaining pattern target the sole focus turned to the Akron tire maker.
The union and BFS restarted talks after a three-year agreement with Goodyear was reached in September 2003, but by November there were disagreements over several issues, particularly areas which were covered in the Goodyear pact but not in BFS´ proposals. Plant investment and job security were at the top of the list.
The two sides did not meet again until December 2004, and discussions have stopped and started again a few times, with the outstanding issues remaining the same.
In the meantime, the USW worked out new deals with several other tire makers, including Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich unit in August, Yokohama Tire Corp. in January and Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in April.