Merry Christmas. Here's your $5,000 pay cut.
That's the deal United Steelworkers Local 1055 members at Bridgestone Americas Inc.'s LaVergne, Tenn., tire plant agreed to via a contract ratification vote Nov. 30. They approved a cut of $2.50 an hour in wages, also lost a week of paid vacation, and 40 veteran employees will be offered $25,000 “please leave” money.
A brutal concessionary contract shoved down the workers' throats? In this day and age, not really. In fact, a case can be made that the union local did OK: In return for the compensation cuts, Bridgestone Americas gave the workers the promise the plant will remain open through the life of the four-year master contract the USW as a whole ratified in October.
Even after eliminating passenger and light truck tire production at the factory last summer, along with 600 jobs, Bridgestone calculated it still needed to skim another $7.2 million off annual costs to make the plant competitive on a global basis.
Which begs the question: What does that really mean, being globally competitive?
It means USW members at LaVergne needed to take a pay cut of roughly $400 a month, based on a 40-hour workweek, so their plant is competitive with, say, a factory in China that makes radial truck tires.
The average manufacturing worker wage in China is $200 a month. The nation's tire industry pays better than that, but the prevailing wage still falls far short of that of the LaVergne workers.
This is not to condemn Bridgestone for its actions. Indeed, the company can be commended for its long-term, heavy investment in its U.S. operations.
Ultimately, though, all U.S. and Canadian tire plants have to compete in a world market, meaning workers must accept a reduced standard of living if they hope to keep their jobs. That doesn't make for a merry Christmas, now or in the future.