LaVERGNE, Tenn.—Members of United Steelworkers Local 1055 have ratified an agreement with Bridgestone Americas Inc. that will help secure the operation of the firm's LaVergne tire plant for the next four years.
The union workers on Nov. 30 approved—with 59 percent voting in favor—a cost-cutting plan that includes the reduction of wages by $2.50 for all hourly employees; $25,000 buyouts offered to 40 senior employees; and the elimination of one week of paid vacation associated with plant shutdowns at Christmas or July 4, according to Local 1055 President Lou Patterson.
“A lot of people were adamant that the company give up more than it was,” Patterson said of the relatively close vote. “They thought that if we were giving up a lot, (Bridgestone) should, too. We wanted to make sure our people got all the info and know how their decision would affect everyone working there.”
The approval of the agreement ensures the plant, which makes radial truck and bus tires, will stay open through the life of the master contract ratified in October by USW members in LaVergne and three other tire and rubber product facilities. The master pact—along with separate deals covering USW members at tire plants in Warren County, Tenn., and Bloomington, Ill.—expires July 27, 2013.
A Bridgestone spokesman said the company did give up flexibility with the deal, in that if market conditions deteriorate it will remain committed to operating the plant through the life of the master contract. “Job security over four years in this economy is a good thing,” he said.
The company was seeking $7.2 million in annual savings at the LaVergne site, Patterson said. The Bridgestone spokesman said the initiatives were necessary to improve the plant's global competitiveness and the company was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.
“It was in the best interest of both sides for the plant to thrive and have a viable future,” he said. “This puts it in that position and gives it the opportunity to compete.”
The jobs to be vacated by the buyout will be filled by workers on a preferential hire list currently composed of 130 workers who were laid off this past summer when the company stopped making passenger and light truck tires in LaVergne. About 600 people total were laid off at that time; 479 USW members now work at the plant, Patterson said.
Medical insurance, pension and other benefits will remain the same as the levels negotiated in the master contract, Patterson said. The monthly defined benefit pension multiplier will stay at $56 per year of service through the life of the pact.
The 70-person maintenance group at LaVergne, also represented by the USW, approved a separate new contract Dec. 7.