It´s been like pulling teeth, the two years it has taken for the United Steelworkers to reach master contract agreements with all the major tire companies. That will seem painless next to what awaits the USW in just over a year.
A big problem with not getting a new labor deal done in a timely fashion in the current round of negotiations is the impact the delay has on the next contract. If the tentative Bridgestone/Firestone-USW pact wins approval by the Steelworkers, for example, the two parties will return to the table in about a year to restart the entire exercise again, over a new master contract.
The delay in this round of agreements began with the Goodyear deal. The Steelworkers targeted Goodyear as the pattern settlement, and it took awhile before the negotiations and eventual contract were concluded. During that period, negotiations with Michelin North America and BFS were halted, as everyone waited for the pattern to be set.
BFS was to be next, but negotiations fell apart and the two sides didn't even sit down and talk for a year. In the interim, Michelin, Cooper and Yokohama Tire settled contracts. The delay probably was more beneficial to BFS, since a new contract typically means higher labor costs.
Now the Steelworkers union—which is having real problems getting workers in Warren County, Tenn., to approve the BFS deal—faces a very daunting task. Next year the contracts with Goodyear, BFS, Michelin, Continental and Titan Tire all will expire.
The Steelworkers and the old United Rubber Workers always wanted their labor deals with the tire industry to run concurrently. They figured it gave them more clout.
But today isn't 1976, and the tire world is a different place. Next year we´ll see if that was such a hot idea after all.