PITTSBURGH — Union workers at eight Bridgestone/Firestone tire and rubber plants are considering new three-year contract agreements with the company that will preserve cost-of-living allowances and health care provisions and boost pension benefits.
BFS and the United Steelworkers union announced April 4 their bargaining committees had reached tentative agreements on a master contract covering workers at four tire manufacturing sites in Akron; Des Moines, Iowa; LaVergne, Tenn.; and Oklahoma City; a Firestone tube plant in Russellville, Ark.; and a Firestone air spring plant in Noblesville, Ind.
While the master contract includes workers in Oklahoma City, BFS halted tire production at the facility there at the end of 2006. Provisions in the tentative deal include contractual benefits and life insurance coverage for workers with between 23 and 30 years of experience via a $23 million fund, according to information from a contract summary.
Bargaining also covered separate contracts for hourly workers at tire plants in Warren County, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ill., and a maintenance group in LaVergne. Tentative pacts were reached in LaVergne and Bloomington, while a framework for a new agreement has been reached for Warren County, according to the company.
BFS said the agreements are reflective of its goal through the bargaining process to achieve contracts in the best interest of both parties and allow the company to participate successfully in a "fiercely competitive global marketplace."
The USW said the tentative deal follows the pattern set by the contracts reached previously with Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit (in August) and Goodyear (in December), yet believes it is superior to those agreements.
The contracts cover about 6,000 workers at the BFS sites. Ratification votes are expected to be completed by April 25.
Highlights of the tentative deal, according to the summary, include:
— a three-year contract running through July 18, 2009;
— protection from closure for three plants-Warren County, Des Moines and Lavergne-over the length of the pact;
— investment of $100 million by BFS at the protected plants;
— a five-tier wage structure for new employees at each site, resulting in a 17-percent reduction from existing wages;
— wage-rate protection for current employees;
— 90-percent job security for current employees;
— increase of the monthly pension multiplier to $56 per year of service; and
— diversion of first $1 of COLA to help defray retiree medical costs; the remaining COLA payments over the contract will be made as applicable or through an established formula.
The plant security provision in LaVergne is based on the local work force´s approval or rejection-within 120 days of ratification-of an incentive program there to improve the site´s competitiveness and make it profitable, the summary said. If the workers there vote not to be covered by the incentive program, the $100 million investment amount will be reduced by $33 million.
If a nonprotected plant is closed during the contract, workers would receive a closure agreement based upon the one reached for Oklahoma City, the summary said.
Information meetings for workers at the affected plants began April 10. USW members in Warren County met April 10-13 and in Russellville on April 11. More meetings were scheduled for Akron on April 15; Noblesville, April 16; Des Moines, April 19-20; Bloomington, April 21-22; and LaVergne, April 24-25.
The previous contracts for workers at the BFS plants expired in July 2006. Talks were put on hold for much of the time following the expiration while the USW focused on first BFGoodrich and then Goodyear.
More than 12,000 workers at 12 Goodyear sites went on strike against the company beginning Oct. 2, with the union members ratifying a new three-year deal Dec. 28. BFS and the USW returned to the bargaining table following the strike´s end on Jan. 30.
Workers at Yokohama Tire Corp.´s Salem, Va., tire plant also are waiting to work out a new deal with the company. The three-year contract there expired April 15, but bargaining may ramp up as the BFS/USW contract process draws to a conclusion.