KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The status of negotiations between Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit and the United Steelworkers was up in the air as the July 22 master contract deadline approached, and a strike remained a possibility.
At press time, no agreement had been reached between the two sides, and the union was 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.
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.
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 its Opelika, Ala., 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.
Goodyear and the union extended their master contract-which also was to expire July 22-on a day-to-day basis on July 18. Either party can terminate the extension by providing 72-hour notice. The USW represents about 12,600 hourly employees at 12 Goodyear tire and rubber product plants.
But the Steelworkers rejected BFS´ offer to extend their master contract-also lapsing at 12:01 a.m. July 23-because the company did not want to include the job security portions of the pact. BFS plans to close its Oklahoma City tire plant this year.
"Decisions about plant staffing, production and other items must be based on market conditions and should not be guaranteed by contract nor by contract extensions," BFS said in a statement. "Guaranteeing conditions such as these is incompatible with our need to make our North American tire production facilities globally competitive and profitable."
The company´s extension offer for a separate agreement with workers at its Warren County, Tenn., tire plant also was rejected, but was accepted for pacts at the Bloomington, Ill., off-the-road tire plant and with the maintenance group at the LaVergne, Tenn., facility, BFS said. Those extensions can be canceled with five days written notice.
The two sides agreed to recess negotiations until the pattern is established, and BFS acknowledged that with the exception of job security language and a few other issues, the terms of the contract would stay in effect, the USW said.
The union represents about 6,000 hourly workers at eight BFS sites.