CINCINNATI—The United Steelworkers union, viewing the current negotiating scenario with Goodyear as "bleak," is getting closer to calling for a strike at 12 company tire and rubber product plants.
Negotiators for both sides have been meeting on and off in Cincinnati since June, and they´ve made little progress on the major issues. The latest Goodyear proposal on retiree health care, presented on Sept. 25, was unacceptable, a Steelworkers spokesman said.
The USW was expected to respond with its own comprehensive contract proposal Sept. 29, the spokesman said. If the situation doesn´t change, the union sees no reason to continue talking, and "the company may force us to strike," he said.
The USW official gave no date when a walkout might occur, but said a "deadline is fast approaching."
Goodyear didn´t comment on the USW´s outlook on the talks or any pending action. A company spokes-man said the proposals have been discussed by the two sides, are detailed and take time to review.
About 12,600 workers at the unionized Goodyear sites have been working on a contract extension since July 18. The three-year master contract covering the workers at the Goodyear plants was to expire July 22.
Either side may terminate the extension agreement with 72 hours notice. The union earlier this summer conducted strike authorization votes at the Goodyear locals, with the membership at each site overwhelmingly approving action if necessary.
The Steelworkers union has been dissatisfied with the company´s proposals going back to June, calling it a "cut and gut" strategy early on. The company in mid-September presented a new comprehensive offer based on the contract the union signed with Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire unit in August, but the USW picked it apart point by point.
For example, Goodyear offered to continue the cost-of-living allowance as a percentage of the grade wage rate; the union said under the proposal 60 percent of employees would receive less than the current COLA formula. The company also offered an exit incentive of up to 10 percent of active employees, but the USW said those employees would be replaced with lower-paying jobs and fewer benefits.
Plant protection has been a huge sticking point as well. Goodyear offered to give 10 of 12 plants no-closure protection during the contract span, plus guarantees for no layoffs below a fixed number at the protected plants.
But the union, still smarting at the closure of the Huntsville, Ala., factory associated with the last master contract in 2003, said it won´t stand for another plant being shut down. That was a sacrifice the USW made when Goodyear was in financial trouble, the spokesman said, but now the company is trying to gouge its hourly employees and retirees again.
The USW believes Goodyear failed to fund its pension and contribute to retiree health benefits when it had the money and isn´t living up to promises made after its workers took lesser wages to help its retirees keep their benefits, the spokesman said. The company also didn´t make the right plant investments when it could have, and that has negatively affected its performance in North America, he said.
While Goodyear chose not to comment on the recent proposals, it has maintained it needs to achieve an agreement that doesn´t place it in a competitive disadvantage.