PITTSBURGH-Securing manufacturing jobs and protecting retiree health care benefits are the top objectives for the United Steelworkers union´s rubber sector in this year´s upcoming master contract talks with the world´s largest tire makers.
The union´s Rubber/Plastic Industry Conference-which represents workers in the tire, rubber and plastics sector-unveiled its bargaining goals as the culmination of the three-day pre-negotiations policy conference held March 13-15 in Pittsburgh.
Representing about 70,000 tire and rubber industry workers, the R/PIC traditionally holds the conference before the beginning of contract talks in the three-year tire industry cycle. Contracts with Goodyear, Bridgestone/Firestone and Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire units expire in July.
The R/PIC Policy Committee-composed primarily of leaders at individual locals-will meet again beginning June 5 to prepare for actual negotiations, which probably will begin seven to 10 days later, a USW spokesman said.
The policy committee cited job security as the issue most important to active members.
"Our families and communities depend on the good wages and benefits provided by the successful manufacturers," said Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of R/PIC.
"We recognize how technology and work reorganization can improve productivity, but we expect management to become efficient as well, while recognizing our expertise. The most important key to enhancing productivity is investing the money necessary to keep plants modern."
The union stressed that while demand is increasing in North America-especially for higher-quality products-and prices have indeed risen, raw material and energy costs have gone up as well.
The growth in demand is being met by an increase in imports from lower-cost locations such as Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
The committee established four basic elements for job security during the conference:
—eliminate the contracting-out of bargaining unit work;
—attain a successorship clause guaranteeing that in the event of a plant sale, the buyer will recognize the union and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement;
—reduce the level of overtime to maintain the health and safety of current employees and create new opportunities for other workers; and
—acquire capital investment expenditures for plants to keep them globally competitive.
The objective to keep North American jobs isn´t a new one for the USW: it was the top priority during the 2003 bargaining sessions. The union and the Big Three tire makers agreed on job security and capital investment language in the current contract, but Goodyear-which was struggling financially and needed to slash costs-did close its Huntsville, Ala., tire plant at the end of 2003.
Michelin also plans to shut down tire production at its BFGoodrich facility in Kitchener, Ontario, in July, after the agreement lapses.
A Goodyear spokeswoman wouldn´t comment on pending negotiations with the USW, other than to say the firm´s goal is "an agreement that is fair to all stakeholders and helps Goodyear win with customers."
Hoover said while the union will face challenges during the upcoming negotiations that "will go far in defining our future," it won´t allow its retirees to become sacrificial lambs in the process. "To allow a company to renege on commitments it made in the past, just so it can further feed an insatiable appetite now for more profits and bigger bonuses, is just flat-out wrong," he said.
Other bargaining priorities for the USW include neutrality/card check policies and retirement security, the union said. The decision to join a union should be left up to the worker, with no involvement from the company, the USW said, and the neutrality/card check process provides for that right and for the recognition of the union should a majority of the workers sign cards asking for representation.
The USW also wants to spur the creation and continuation of defined benefit pension plans, which pay retirement benefits from a company-established fund.
These plans ensure a steady stream of income for retirees and spouses for their entire retirement period, according to the union.