OVERLAND PARK, Kan.—Years ago the former United Rubber Workers union and Goodyear worked together on a collaborative program that may be responsible for one of the firm's U.S. tire factories still operating today.
And two of the participants in the program, the third-party facilitator and a Goodyear manager of industrial relations, say the principles they focused on still are relevant in labor-management relations today.
Robert Hughes, currently president of Overland Resource Group in Overland Park, was working back in the 1980s with W.P. Dolan & Associates, a forerunner of his current firm. W.P. Dolan at the time was working with Goodyear and the URW in Tyler, Texas, as the company was looking to convert the factory from bias-ply to radial tire production.
W.P. Dolan focused on helping union and management clients work together in a collaborative manner to help improve organizational performance, according to Hughes. He said that Jerry Butcher, head of Goodyear's North American manufacturing at the time, approached them about setting up a similar program at the Gadsden, Ala., facility, represented by URW Local 12.
The Alabama plant basically had two parts, one an old area where bias tires were produced, and then a newer expansion put up in the 1970s to manufacture radials. “Jerry said this is a big work force, with a lot of experience and an experienced management team,” Hughes said. “It's been a good plant for us. But the board of Goodyear is not going to spend money on improving locations if they don't see we have a reasonable business relationship with labor.”
Doug Wade was sent to the Gadsden plant in 1986 as manager of industrial relations, and he recalls that a lot of company personnel refused to go to Gadsden because the threat of closure hung over the factory. He went there with the expectation that the plant would not survive.
But after talking to union and management officials, they presented a plant to Goodyear leadership to try to save the facility. The top executives felt like they were hearing a tale they'd heard before, and historically it was “all talk and no change,” Wade said. “Goodyear signed off with great doubt it would ever happen.”
At that point Goodyear leadership—headed by Butcher—suggested they work with W.L. Dolan, as the company and union were in Tyler. So Wade and the president of Local 12 at the time went and met with plant management and union leadership from the Texas facility to see if they felt the process could work in Gadsden.