MORRISON, Tenn.-The bulk of the workers at Bridgestone/Firestone´s unionized U.S. tire and rubber plants may get a new contract at the end of this month, but one local may be headed toward a July strike against the company.
Members of United Steelworkers Local 1155-who staff BFS´s Warren County, Tenn., truck and bus tire plant-overwhelmingly rejected the company´s "last, best" offer June 17, with 85 percent of the voters saying no. The vote came just eight days after the bargaining committee representing seven USW locals at BFS sites reached a tentative contract agreement with the company covering about 6,000 workers.
Local 1155 leaders, however, refused to accept the tentative deal and recommended to members that they reject the offer. Local 1155 and USW Local 787 in Bloomington, Ill., are covered by separate contracts, while workers at BFS´ other six unionized plants are covered by a master contract.
Ron Vining, president of Local 1155, said if the other locals-which are scheduled to vote June 28 and 29-ratify their deals, the members will go on strike July 15. The local must give a five-day notice before walking out, he said, and preparations have begun already.
There are no plans to contact the company to continue negotiating, he said. "The proposal we voted on was their last, best offer."
A BFS spokesman said the company is disappointed the nearly 800 workers in Warren County rejected the contract offer, but is optimistic the other agreements will be approved. If ratified, the contracts will run through July 23, 2006.
Vining said the Warren County facility is the company´s most profitable union plant, and the proposal the local members voted down is substandard for what they do every day. The workers have mandatory overtime to deal with, and they don´t make as much vacation money as their colleagues at other plants do, he said.
The hourly employees at the other large plants that run on 12-hour shifts-in Lavergne, Tenn.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Oklahoma City-work 12 hours and get paid for it, he said, but at Warren County the workers work 121/2 hours and get paid for 12.
The employees at the other sites also work at fixed production rates, while at the Warren County site the company can raise the required pace as it sees fit, he said.
Vining also believes the negotiations should have considered the long term, because getting job and plant security for one year doesn´t address a bigger problem. "We spent two years negotiating for a one-year contract," he said. "That doesn´t make a lot of sense. We´re losing by waiting. We need employment guarantees beyond 2006, or those jobs might not be there."
It´s been stressful for the membership working day-to-day, and they´ve been putting their lives on hold waiting for something to happen, Vining said. "People here haven´t bought that new car or home because they´re worried about committing the funds," he said. "They can´t enjoy what they´ve saved."
The tentative contracts call for plant protection-meaning no closures during the life of the agreement-for five of eight facilities. The Warren County plant is one of them, along with the sites in Lavergne, Des Moines, Oklahoma City and Akron.
The Bloomington plant; the company´s Noblesville, Ind., air springs site; and the Russellville, Ark., inner tube facility were designated as "distressed" plants in the tentative contract. They received no job security provisions, but Local 787 President Gary Starkey said his members would receive the same benefits as those covered in the master contract.
Other highlights of the tentative agreements, according to the master contract summary, include:
—90-percent guaranteed staffing levels and production ticket protection;
—minimum capital expenditures of $190 million through 2006 at the protected plants;
—distribution of 98 cents per hour of accumulated cost-of-living allowance, with 48 cents restored upon ratification, 25 cents restored after April 23, 2006, and the balance slated for health care inflation, capital investment and pension funding;
—raising the monthly pension multiplier to $54 per year of service from $50.
The contracts, if ratified, will line up with master contracts reached with Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire units. The BFS workers in the covered plants have been working on day-to-day extensions since the previous three-year contract expired in April 2003.