The major tire and rubber companies will see a different-but familiar-face across the bargaining table during master contract talks next year.
The United Steelworkers International Executive Board has appointed Ron Hoover executive vice president of the USW Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, the body that represents rubber workers. He will succeed John Sellers, who announced his retirement effective Sept. 1.
Sellers was appointed to represent the members of the former United Rubber Workers on March 1, 1996, elected by delegates to an R/PIC conference in September 1996, and re-elected to four-year terms in September 1997 and September 2001.
With the USWA, Sellers coordinated successful strategic campaigns to reach settlements with Bridgestone/Firestone and Continental A.G., and led the union's negotiations with other major tire companies such as Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire unit.
Hoover joined the URW in 1964 when he went to work at Goodyear's Topeka, Kan., factory. He was a union activist at Local 307, serving as division chairman and two-term president before his appointment to the URW staff in 1989. He has served as coordinator of the Goodyear/Kelly Springfield/Dunlop bargaining committee since 1993 and has served as Sellers' assistant since 1998.
Hoover recently concluded the contract re-opener negotiations with Continental Tire North America Inc. and he oversees the USW's Journeyman Card Program.
The USW already is looking ahead to next year's master contract bargaining, even as the 2003 round of talks was just completed in July. Goodyear was the target company in those talks, with bargaining going several months past deadline and putting discussions with Michelin and Bridgestone/Firestone on hold.
The union reached agreement with Goodyear in the fall of 2003, with pacts at Michelin's BFGoodrich tire plants in the U.S. following in August 2004 and Bridgestone/Firestone just last month. All those agreements expire July 23, 2006, and contracts with Continental Tire North America Inc. also expire next year.
Hoover, who was the union's lead negotiator in the Goodyear talks, said the bargaining delays all started with that set of negotiating.
``I'll accept responsibility for that,'' said Hoover, who will face election for his post at an R/PIC conference in early October. ``That was worthwhile to give an old proud U.S. company the tools to recover from a tough situation. From my standpoint, it was necessary, but that got the whole thing off schedule.''
As for issues expected to be important next year, Hoover said the USW will be looking at the same things as other industrial unions.
``Any union that goes to the table knows that the delivery of health care benefits for active members and retirees will be an issue,'' he said. ``Additionally, keeping jobs in North America and in union plants will be an issue-a priority from my point of view. I strongly believe that our people can compete and should be given an opportunity.''
Hoover also said his members-as well as the tire companies-shouldn't expect too many surprises at the bargaining table. ``John (Sellers) and I worked closely together for years, and John is an excellent leader,'' Hoover said.
Among the tire makers, Goodyear worked closest with Hoover.
``Goodyear enjoyed a productive working relationship with John Sellers, and we wish him all of the best in his retirement,'' said Jim Allen, Goodyear director of Global Labor Relations. ``We have also known Ron Hoover for many years, and we look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role.''
Dave Lowe, head of labor relations at Michelin North America, echoed those statements, saying the firm had worked successfully with John Sellers and ``anticipate that same relationship continuing with Ron Hoover.''