The United Steelworkers has chosen Michelin's BFGoodrich division as the target for a pattern contract that would set the pace for all union-tire manufacturer deals. Let the games begin.
Once colorfully called the ``Triennial Passion Play,'' the master contract discussions between the labor union and tire makers today are businesslike, rather than passionate. Sure, some speechmaking and saber rattling can be expected. But it's not like the old days when the United Rubber Workers union could-and did-shut down the entire industry if it so chose.
The union movement in the U.S. has been on the ropes for a long time, and the situation for organized labor in the tire and rubber industry is no different. Fewer members, less clout, deflated bargaining power.
While the Steelworkers want a pattern settlement on which to build contracts with other tire makers, look no further than Kitchener, Ontario, and Charlotte, N.C., for the real pattern. Walkouts by labor at those facilities ended in settlements, but ultimately were followed by closure notices.
The U.S. and Canada are fast turning into locations for the production of lower volume, higher profit tire lines, like high performance tires. Manufacturing of run-of-the-mill passenger radials is migrating to lower-cost sites abroad, and/or booming new economies, like China. The jobs go with them.
Because of that, the union is pursuing a survival strategy in its negotiations, seeking job security and retirement benefits. Aggressive demands for wage and benefit increases and work rules that benefit its members are a thing of the past.
No matter what the eventual pattern says, each company has its own ``special situation'' and will seek to break the pattern to suit its needs. Once that was a company strategy-now it's a negotiating reality.
Both sides want a fair deal, but ultimately it will be the tire companies that define ``fair.''