PITTSBURGH (July 29, 2009)—The United Steelworkers union has extended three-year pacts due to expire in July as master contract negotiations continue with the “Big Three” tire makers.
USW agreements with Goodyear and Michelin North America Inc.'s BFGoodrich tire manufacturing unit were extended to Aug. 15. The pacts between the union and Bridgestone Americas Inc. were extended on a day-to-day basis, with a five-day written notice required to terminate.
The original contracts were due to lapse July 18. Negotiations between the USW and each of the tire companies began in early June.
Strike votes also have been taken by members working at tire and rubber product manufacturing plants, and walkouts have been approved if deemed necessary by union officials within each tire maker chain.
Contract extensions and strike votes during bargaining years are common. Traditionally, the USW chooses a “target” company on which to focus contract talks and set a bargaining pattern with after initial discussions are conducted with each of the tire makers. At that point, negotiations with the other two firms are suspended until an agreement is reached between the union and the target company.
A bargaining target has not been named yet in this year's bargaining round. In fact, it's possible the USW may not choose one this time, said Kevin Johnsen, the union's Goodyear contract coordinator.
At this point, there isn't one company above the others the union is looking to set a pattern with, he said, and there are similarities and differences among the issues with each company. Michelin was the target in 2006, but after an agreement was reached there, negotiations broke down with Goodyear, resulting in an 86-day strike involving 15,000 workers at 16 company sites in North America.
“Job security is a big issue for us, and the company has their own issues, too,” Johnsen said. “We're meeting daily and digging through everything and trying to find some common ground. We're optimistic we can get it done by (Aug. 15).”
Generally, the main issues on the table as far as the union is concerned are familiar ones: job security and plant protection, investments at organized facilities, active and retiree health care benefits and costs, tiered wage scales, pensions, and health and safety among them.
There are also important issues being discussed within each chain. In the Bridgestone negotiations, for example, the union is concerned about scheduling changes being proposed which it claims would include the creation of 12½–hour shifts resulting in unpaid time and a split payroll week that would reduce overtime pay.
The USW's Bridgestone policy committee also wants to include several bargaining units in the master contract: production workers at the Nashville, Tenn.-based company's Bloomington, Ill., off-the-road tire plant and Warren County, Tenn., truck and bus tire facility; hourly workers at the Kings Mountain, N.C., tire cord and industrial fabric factory; and the maintenance crew at the Lavergne, Tenn., tire plant.
The Bloomington and Warren County contracts already run concurrent with the master pact.
Akron-based Goodyear said the goals it and its workers have are common—the company wants to “win,” with winning defined as realizing profitable growth by building tires in North America, and the union wants to secure a future for the U.S. factories it represents.
Jose Francol and Steve Pauly, manufacturing directors of the firm's North American Tire unit, told the USW those objectives only can be reached if Goodyear can successfully:
* respond to customer demands by making the right tire at the right time at a competitive cost;
* ensure the manufacturing organization is flexible, fast and precise to react to that demand;
* standardize its manufacturing systems and procedures; and
* optimize productivity to allow for full utilization of scheduled equipment.
Michelin's goals, like Goodyear's, are challenging, particularly in the current difficult, weak and unpredictable business environment, a company spokeswoman said. The Greenville, S.C.-based tire maker wants to improve plant flexibility and competitiveness, address rising heath care costs and maintain its ability to respond immediately to demand fluctuations.
“We need to address those issues while continuing to establish sustainability in the market,” she said.
The USW is banking that some of the competitive challenges of tire manufacturing in North America will be alleviated by a favorable ruling in its petition to limit the number of Chinese tire imports, filed in April. The union claimed that the large number of imported tires—more than 46 million in 2008—was causing “market disruption” in the U.S.
The International Trade Commission voted in June to recommend to the White House a three-year duty on imports from China as opposed to a limitation of units, but union officials backed that decision.
The case is now in the hands of President Obama, who must act on the ITC's recommendation for duties by Sept. 17.