KNOXVILLE, Tenn.—The United Steelworkers union, which represents hourly employees at Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire factories, believes it has negotiated a master contract with the company the rest of the industry can embrace.
Now it´s up to the rest of the industry to voice its approval or not.
About 3,400 workers at three BFG tire plants in Opelika and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind., ratified the pact during voting the week of July 31 on a three-year contract that will run from July 23 of this year through July 18, 2009.
Negotiating committees for the USW and BFG reached a tentative contract agreement in Knoxville on July 25. A nine-man committee of local union presidents from BFG sites as well as plants within the Goodyear and Bridgestone/Firestone chain then met July 28 to approve the BFG tentative pact as the "pattern" for the other tire industry negotiations.
The USW selected BFG as the industry "target" June 30.
Accepting the BFG agreement as the pattern means the union will try to follow it in its talks with Goodyear and BFS, but not necessarily point-by-point.
"Pattern bargaining doesn´t mean every piece of the pattern agreement will be copied exactly," said Ron Hoover, USW executive vice president and head of the union´s Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference. "It means in areas of wages, benefits for actives and retirees and overall cost to the company, the Big Three agreements reached will be comparable.
"It also means, for the union, that the goals established for all R/PIC agreements have been achieved."
Hoover said prior to the start of 2006 master contract negotiations that the key issues in bargaining would be job security and retiree health care.
The language in the BFGoodrich tentative pact includes guarantees of no plant closures or layoffs at the three plants; staffing levels of at least 90 percent for regular full-time workers and 100 percent for technical maintenance workers; and minimum capital investments of $100 million toward the production of larger, higher-margin branded tires, according to a contract summary.
An exception to BFG´s contract commitments is the production reduction of mass-market passenger tires in Opelika, which was announced June 11. Between 30 and 40 percent of the 1,300-person work force at the site will be laid off indefinitely beginning in the fourth quarter.
Layoffs also could occur during the life of the pact with inventory adjustments, though all three plants also will have 90-percent ticket protection, the summary said.
For retirees, the proposed contract includes continuance of coverage by the Comprehensive Health Care Plan, with a $300 deductible and a 90-percent coinsurance level. BFG agreed to contribute $27 million to retiree health care during the agreement, while active workers agreed to divert the first $1 of future cost-of-living adjustments to a retiree trust fund, the contract summary said.
Other highlights of the proposed contract, according the summary, include:
— a new five-level wage structure;
— a new 48-month wage progression scale;
— a pension multiplier increase to $57 for every year of service per month, up from $54; and
— no changes to the COLA formula.
If the BFGoodrich tentative agreement is ratified, the union will turn its attention to Goodyear or BFS for the next round of bargaining. The BFG negotiating committee will conduct contract briefings with the union´s other tire maker bargaining committees, while the company´s representatives will do the same with their industry counterparts, a USW spokesman said.
Union officials then will decide which company to focus on next, and negotiations will resume, he said.
Goodyear and the union recessed talks while the BFG tentative agreement was being considered and voted upon, the USW said, and the two sides planned to return to the bargaining table in Cincinnati on Aug. 6.
BFS and the Steelworkers recessed talks in St. Louis on June 19.