Ron Hoover never had aspirations to be the leader of the rubber industry´s top union.
A 41-year veteran of the United Rubber Workers and later the United Steelworkers, he eventually thought about being president of a local—which he was, for two terms, at Local 307, which staffs Goodyear´s Topeka, Kan., tire plant.
But he always was happy doing whatever job he had at the time, whether it was as a URW staff member, a bargaining committee coordinator or assistant to John Sellers, the USW executive vice president who headed the union´s Rubber/ Plastics Industry Conference, the post-merger incarnation of the URW.
"I was always comfortable being John´s assistant, or anyone else´s assistant for that matter," said Hoover, 63.
Now, though, he has Sellers´ job. Hoover was named his successor when Sellers retired Sept. 1, and his leadership for the next four years was confirmed by his election at the conference´s convention held earlier this month in Pittsburgh.
"I feel humble, and proud to be where I´m sitting," he said. "I realize the enormity and magnitude of this job and look forward to the coming opportunities."
Sellers believes Hoover is a natural for the position he held for nearly 10 years, and said his reserved nature belies his talents. "Ron is very smart, very savvy," he said. "People may buy his ´aw-shucks´ manner, but they do so at their own peril. He´s an outstanding critical thinker and a good negotiator who has the trust of the locals."
Already a longtime negotiating veteran, having served as coordinator of the Goodyear chain bargaining committee for 12 years, Hoover soon will get a chance to oversee activities from the big chair. Next year begins an important negotiating period for the tire and rubber industry. Master contracts with North American operations of the industry´s Big Three—Goodyear, Bridgestone Corp. and Groupe Michelin—come due, as do pacts with Continental Tire North America Inc. and Titan International Inc.
Hoover´s big goals are to help keep companies producing tires and rubber products in North America, as opposed to markets like China and Brazil, and curb the industry´s "insatiable appetite" to cut costs on the backs of union members, and especially retirees. "Those retirees helped build those companies," he said.
Hoover also wants to see a timely pattern settlement in upcoming negotiations. The USW worked hard to get a fair contract with Goodyear in 2003, particularly given the company´s financial woes at the time, and he believes the union did "what it should" to help the tire maker.
But the length of that process pushed back negotiations with the other tire makers, and the 2003 bargaining season didn´t end until earlier this past summer. Hoover doesn´t want that to happen again.
"The Goodyear agreement will go down as a historic agreement at the end of the day, but it´s not appropriate for the (total tire industry) membership to wait that long for a contract settlement," he said. "We had people wanting to buy homes, and they couldn´t do it for a couple of years. It´s not right."
The union will come to the table in 2006 prepared to achieve that timely pattern-setting contract, he said.
Goodyear already made the first negotiating move when it announced earlier this month it intends to slash high-cost manufacturing capacity by 8 to 12 percent during the next three years to save $100 million to $150 million annually. To achieve that goal, the tire maker said it will shut down high-cost factories globally, although it didn´t disclose how many plants are doomed or where they are located.
"We didn´t work as hard as we did in 2003 to help Goodyear out financially to come back next year and talk about closing plants," Hoover said. "We´re not going to do that."
In addition to meeting the R/PIC´s bargaining goals, Hoover would like to help build the union´s young leadership and also have people ready when the political environment allows for better opportunities to organize more members.
"Any union leader with young people not on his agenda has missed the mark," he said. "There is lots of raw untapped union talent in this conference. We win by tapping into it."
Hoover is confident enough in the youth and enthusiasm in the R/PIC to say he´ll likely "ride off comfortably" into retirement after one term. But he´s excited about the job and responsibilities in front of him for the next four years, and is keeping things in perspective as well.
"I pride myself in not forgetting where I came from," Hoover said. "That´s the most important virtue of a good union leader. I also have a reputation as a hard worker. In today´s world, I think you have to be."