PITTSBURGH—United Steelworkers negotiators are back at the bargaining table with Bridgestone/Firestone and Goodyear to work out new master contracts with the tire makers.
Bargaining committees for Goodyear and the union resumed the week of Aug. 21 in Cincinnati after the company had spent the last few weeks analyzing the details of a new contract between the USW and Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire unit.
Workers at BFG´s three unionized U.S. plants ratified a three-year agreement with the company early last month. The pact, which runs through July 18, 2009, covers about 3,400 hourly workers.
Negotiators for the union and BFS also resumed formal talks Aug. 29 in St. Louis. The two sides had conducted reviews of the BFG pact as recently as the week of Aug. 21, a USW spokes- man said.
The Steelworkers designated BFGoodrich as its target company for 2006 master contract negotiations on June 30, and approved the BFG pact as the pattern it intends to follow for the rest of the tire industry. The USW intends to bargain simultaneously with Goodyear and BFS, the spokesman said.
The presence of a pattern doesn´t change BFS´ focus as negotiations resume, a company spokesman said. "We´re looking for a contract that makes sense for our business and is specific to the needs and challenges facing the business," he said. "We want an agreement that´s good for both sides, yet it must allow us to be competitive globally."
A contract may fit the need of one company, but not another, the spokesman said. "We´re not bound by someone else´s contract."
The BFG contract includes a cost-cutting five-level wage structure and four-year wage progression scale; increased employee responsibility for health care coverage; minimum company investments of $100 million at the three plants toward the production of larger, higher-margin branded tires; a pension increase to $57 per month for each year of service; and 90-percent staffing levels and ticket protection.
There also are guarantees of no plant closures or layoffs at BFG manufacturing sites unless the company is making inventory adjustments. An exception is the already-announced production cutback of between 30 and 40 percent of mass-market passenger tires at its Opelika, Ala., site. Between 30 and 40 percent of the 1,300-person work force will be laid off indefinitely beginning in the fourth quarter.
Production reductions at BFS and Goodyear may impact those negotiations as well. BFS announced in April it would likely close its Oklahoma City tire facility, and confirmed it in July. About 1,400 employees will be affected by the shutdown, which is scheduled to happen by the end of the year.
Goodyear announced in June it would cut production of private label tires in North America by about a third over a 12-month period. That decision will affect up to 10 private label brands, representing about $300 million in sales and 8 million units of capacity.
The USW represents workers at all five Goodyear plants that produce private label tires.
Union representatives said earlier this summer they expected negotiations to be difficult. Proposals made between Goodyear and the USW-before the two sides recessed during the BFG negotiations-indicated the two sides were far apart in several areas, including job security, insurance premium contributions, pensions, wages, cost-of-living adjustments and contract work.
The union said Goodyear´s proposals indicate it wants to leave as many as three of its tire and rubber plants unprotected from closure during the next contract period. Jon Rich, president of Goodyear´s North American Tire business unit, has said the company must have a "significantly lower cost structure" in North America, and must "solve our cost and productivity problems."