CINCINNATI—The United Steelworkers union has selected Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit as the "target company" for 2006 master contract negotiations in the tire and rubber industry.
This means that the USW will focus primarily on getting a contract agreement for about 3,400 workers at the three BFG tire plants in Opelika and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind. Theoretically, that pact will set a bargaining pattern for the rest of the industry, particularly for deals with Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone.
A nine-man panel-made up of representatives from USW bargaining committees engaged in talks with BFG, BFS and Goodyear-selected BFG as the bargaining target June 30 in Cincinnati, where Goodyear meetings are being held.
The USW believes that through an agreement with BFG the two sides "can set an industry pattern that looks after our retirees, enhances job security and protects the standard of living for our active and retired members" said Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of the union´s Rub-ber/Plastics Industry Conference.
Hoover said prior to the beginning of master contract talks that securing manufacturing jobs and protecting retiree health care benefits were the USW´s top objectives in this year´s round of bargaining.
BFG released a statement June 30 following its choice as the target company saying that the 2006 negotiations are "important in light of a dynamic tire market in North America."
"We continue to address the challenges that are presented by increasing imports from low-cost producers and rising energy and material costs. BFGoodrich...and the United Steelworkers must address these critical issues together in order for our facilities to remain competitive in today´s increasingly complex marketplace."
The company had no other comment on the announcement. A Michelin spokeswoman did say that talks between BFG and the union-being held in Knoxville, Tenn.-were scheduled to resume the week following the July 4 holiday.
In February, Michelin announced it will close its BFG passenger and light truck tire plant in Kitchener, Ontario, where workers also are represented by the USW. The 1,000 hourly employees in Kitchener had gone on strike in June 2004, but reached an agreement with the company in August in conjunction with the master contract for the U.S. sites.
The plant is scheduled to close July 22, the same date the BFG contracts lapse.
Looking for a pattern
Traditionally, after the target company is chosen, negotiations between the union and that tire maker take center stage and the talks among the other firms eventually recess. Once an agreement is reached with the target, it is then used as the pattern for settlement in the negotiations at the other two bargaining tables.
In the 2003 round of negotiations-which stretched into the summer of 2005-Goodyear was selected as the target and the union and company reached accord in September 2003. However, both BFS and Michelin resisted following the pattern. Locals in the BFG chain eventually ratified a contract in August 2004 and BFS locals ratified their deals in June 2005.
This year marks the first time since 1985 BFG has been chosen as a bargaining target. The Steelworkers chose BFS as the target in 1991 and 2000 and Goodyear in 1988, 1994, 1997 and 2003.
Even though it wasn´t selected as the target, Goodyear planned on continuing negotiations in Cincinnati to "reach an agreement that is fair to all stakeholders and enhances Goodyear´s ability to win with customers," said Jim Allen, the company´s director of global labor relations.
A USW spokesman said talks in Cincinnati and St. Louis-where the BFS talks are taking place-probably will continue as long as discussions are meaningful. The union and companies have issues outside of the pattern they can negotiate, he said.
The USW/Goodyear negotiations-which include Kelly-Springfield and Dunlop units-cover 12,400 members at eight tire and four non-tire rubber product plants in the U.S. The talks with BFS cover 6,000 workers in eight U.S. factories. The expiration date for those pacts, like BFG, is July 22.
One of the BFS operations, however, is in danger of closing. The company announced in April it may shutter its Oklahoma City tire plant by the end of the year because of global market forces, particularly competition abroad utilizing low-cost production.