KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (July 21) — The status of negotiations between Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit and the United Steelworkers is up in the air as the July 22 master contract deadline approaches, and a strike remains a possibility.
No agreement had been reached between the two sides, and the union has been critical of the company´s most recent proposals. Reports from a USW Web site focusing on the BFG talks said the union´s negotiating committee rejected a July 14 settlement offer, and claimed BFG was asking for an average reduction of $7 per hour from its production employees.
The site also said if there wasn´t "serious, purposeful negotiating soon, we will be striking them come 12:01 eastern time on July 23."
Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of the union´s Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference, said the two sides were in Knoxville working toward an agreement, and with "hard work, cool minds and the help of the Lord," will have something done by the deadline.
But he added that if by midnight July 22, there had been no real progress, the union may "withhold our labor." USW members at the three U.S. BFG tire facilities covered by the master pact have approved strike action.
The union represents about 3,400 hourly workers at BFG sites in Opelika and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind.
A Michelin spokeswoman said the tire maker would not comment on negotiations but added that it was "confident the USW and company would find a way to move forward."
The Steelworkers said prior to master contract talks that securing manufacturing jobs and protecting retiree health benefits were its top goals. BFG announced June 11 it will reduce production by 30 to 40 percent at the Opelika plant starting in the fourth quarter, with 30 to 40 percent of employees facing indefinite layoff.
The USW chose BFG as its target company for the 2006 round of negotiations June 30. Traditionally, the union focuses on contract discussions with the target to set a bargaining pattern with the other tire makers.