It's so often said, but so often true, collaboration is key throughout the rubber industry. This round of master tire contract negotiations involving 12 United Steelworkers local unions and three major U.S. tire makers—Goodyear, Bridgestone Americas Inc. and Sumitomo Rubber USA L.L.C., the former Goodyear/Sumitomo joint venture in New York—went about as smooth as negotiations could go.
In all instances the desire on both sides to collaborate was paramount. There was no strike, no lockout, no long drawn out voting process, just what all sides described as fair deals spanning the next five years. All were tentatively agreed to before the July 29 deadline and ratified by the locals throughout August.
The contracts provide labor stability for the companies and wage gains for their respective union employees. Not surprisingly, the companies didn't comment much beyond their public statements, but a longer contract that provides clarity through 2022 is a big win for publicly traded behemoths beholden to shareholders' whims.
There also were no changes to the plant protection clauses in each deal, a sign all three companies aren't going anywhere anytime soon, and certainly a good sign for the people who work for them.
But that stability also benefits the union too, especially with so much uncertainty with respect to health care costs, an issue that plagues many U.S. industries. The union emerged from these talks with relatively little change to premiums, though in some cases there are provisions that could cause them to increase should the market shift upwards.
Union employees also will see increases to wages across the board. While Goodyear or its local unions did not release a summary of its deal, it did stress "substantial wage gains" for its employees in its news release. Summaries of the Bridgestone and Sumitomo deals outlined that employees will see increases at all levels.
And according to the USW the gaps between the two-tiered wage system will close substantially throughout all 12 locals.
Stan Johnson, USW's international secretary treasurer, credited the union's success in securing antidumping duties against Chinese car and light truck tire imports as a key factor in the increased wages. According to Johnson, those duties helped stabilize the market and increased the bottom line across the board.
Clearly the tire makers took notice. And now the employees making those tires will share in the gains.