WASHINGTON—As the July 27 deadline approaches, the United Steelworkers union and tire makers generally are mum about the content and progress of ongoing contract negotiations.
The USW contracts with three major companies—Goodyear, Bridgestone Americas and the BFGoodrich Tire manufacturing subsidiary of Michelin North America Inc.—expire July 27.
At this point, the USW and BFGoodrich only will confirm that negotiations continue. BFGoodrich said its contract covers some 2,550 workers at facilities in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Fort Wayne, Ind.
A Bridgestone Americas spokesman said it has four facilities covered under the collectively bargained master agreement with the USW. These are the plants in Akron, Ohio (race tire production); Des Moines, Iowa (agriculture tire production); Russellville, Ark. (tube production); and LaVergne, Tenn. (truck and bus tire production).
Two other Bridgestone facilities, in Warren County, Tenn. (truck and bus tire production) and Bloomington, Ind. (off-the-road tire production), are negotiating separately, the spokesman said. Also, a separate maintenance-only contract is being negotiated at LaVergne, he said.
The spokesman declined to discuss the bargaining issues, saying the company considered it inappropriate to do so outside the negotiating table.
Goodyear maintains a website dedicated to the 2013 contract negotiations.
The last entry on the Goodyear website, dated July 8, said negotiations resumed that day after the July 4 holiday. Goodyear's current four-year agreement, the entry said, covers approximately 8,000 workers at plants in Akron; Buffalo; Danville, Va.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Gadsden, Ala.; and Topeka, Kan.
The Goodyear website also outlined key issues in negotiations, including:
*Pensions. Goodyear has transitioned most of its U.S. employees from pension plans to defined contribution plans and seeks to move the rest, according to the company.
"As with salaried associates, hourly new hires now participate in a defined contribution plan," the website said. "While the hourly defined benefit plans for pre-2007 USW workers have not been frozen, Goodyear has experienced periods of declines in interest rates and pension asset values, resulting in significant underfunding."
* Productivity. "Goodyear's goal for its North American manufacturing operations is to be competitive within North America and with the rest of the world," the website said. "A work force that's committed to the same goal is critical to the company's long-term success."
* Flexibility. "Goodyear manufactures tires in North America for its North American customers," the website said. "In a rapidly changing economic environment, Goodyear's facilities must have workers in the right place, at the right time, producing the right products at the right cost."
* Benefits. Bargaining unit employees are eligible for medical benefits and participation in Goodyear's 401(k) plan after 90 days of employment, according to the website. "Goodyear, like many U.S. employers, continues to face double-digit inflation for its medical benefits costs annually," it said.
The clearest union statement to date came from the website of USW Local 831, which organizes workers at the Goodyear Danville plant. "Once again, thanks for the 95-percent positive strike vote!" said a June 27 website message from Jeff Dixon, vice president of Local 831.
The USW had no word on how many of the facilities affected by contract negotiations have passed strike authorization measure if there is no new contract on July 27.
In the 2009 negotiations, some 4,500 Bridgestone workers in five plants were covered by the contract approved at that time. Workers in Akron; Des Moines, Iowa; Russellville, Ark.; and LaVergne, Tenn., voted to accept the master contract, while workers in Warren County, Tenn., ratified a separate agreement.