PITTSBURGH — Union workers at eight Bridgestone/Firestone tire and rubber plants have ratified new three-year contracts with the company, closing the bargaining season for the Big Three tire makers.
The United Steelworkers announced April 26 that pacts covering about 5,200 workers were approved in local votes taken April 10-25. The agreements run through July 18, 2009.
The master contract-which 52 percent of the voting membership ratified-covers hourly employees 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.
Separate contracts at tire plants in Warren County, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ill., also passed by margins of 3-2 and 3-1, respectively. A maintenance group at the LaVergne plant was scheduled to vote on its own deal April 26 at press time. The previous contracts expired in July 2006.
The new BFS pacts fall in line with the pattern agreements reached with Michelin North America Inc.´s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit and Goodyear, said USW Vice President Ron Hoover, who heads the union´s Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference. USW members ratified three-year contracts-both of which also expire in July 2009-with BFG in August and Goodyear in December.
The Goodyear agreement followed an 86-day Steelworkers strike at 16 North American sites.
The BFS deals maintain quality health care coverage, preserve cost-of-living allowances and boost pension benefits, Hoover said.
BFS said it was pleased about the vote and believes the result reflects its goal to achieve contracts that are in the best interests of both parties. The pact provides "excellent wages and benefits," the company said.
The contract protects three plants -Warren County, Des Moines and LaVergne-from closure during its span and guarantees $100 million in capital investments at those sites. The pact also provides 90-percent job security for current employees.
Other highlights of the deal include a five-tier wage structure for new employees at each site, resulting in a 17-percent reduction from existing pay with current employees getting wage-rate protection; an increase of the monthly pension multiplier to $56 per year of service; and diversion of the first $1 of COLA to help defray retiree medical costs.
Hoover said the preservation of COLA played a big role in helping to protect retiree benefits; otherwise, BFS would have implemented premiums that would have been "devastating" to the retirees, he said.
The master contract also includes closure language for workers in Oklahoma City, where BFS halted tire production at the facility there at the end of 2006. Provisions include contractual benefits and life insurance coverage for workers with between 23 and 30 years of experience via a $23 million fund.
If a nonprotected plant is closed during the contract, workers would receive a closure agreement based upon the one reached for Oklahoma City.