AKRON—Milan "Mike" Stone, the fifth president of the former United Rubber Workers union, died March 3 at Summa Akron City Hospital. He was 90.
He was president of the Akron-based URW from 1981-90, after having been appointed vice president in 1977. He was defeated in his bid for a fourth term as president in 1990 and retired in 1993 after 46 years of service to the union.
Born in Rock Falls, Wis., Stone joined the Navy when he was 17 and served in World War II from 1944-46. Upon returning home, he worked on a small family farm and then at National Presto in nearby Eau Claire, Wis., polishing pressure cooker kettles. In a 1998 interview, he said he rode in a car pool with some workers at the U.S. Rubber tire factory in Eau Claire. He noticed that the workers made roughly twice what he earned, so he checked weekly to try to land a job there.
Eventually he was hired to a job dumping lamp black, where he had to unload 50-pound bags of the filler ingredient through a big hopper on the fifth floor of the factory. He had hoped to move to the tire room, but spent 17 years in the Banbury Department, working in compounding and about every other job there was. It also was there that he received his first contact with the URW and began taking an active role in the labor organization.
He first served as a shift steward, then moved to chairman of his division and a spot on the URW Local 19 executive board. From 1956-63 he was a tire-study engineer, and served as the local's vice president from 1959-61. Stone joined the staff of the URW International in 1963 as a field representative in District 4. From 1964-72 he was assigned as a time-study engineer, and then came to Akron in 1973 as a special representative in the Pensions & Insurance Department.
Stone returned to his home district as director in early 1974. At the time, District 4 was the URW's second-largest district with more than 40,000 members in 11 states. He then was appointed by URW President Peter Bommarito as International vice president in 1977, and was elected as Bommarito's successor in 1981. He was re-elected in 1984 and 1987, before being defeated in 1990 by Kenneth Coss, who served as the union's sixth and final president, leading to the URW's merger with the United Steelworkers in 1995.
Stone's tenure as URW president came during a difficult era, as the late 1970s and 1980s were a time of consolidation and transition in the North American tire industry. From 1975-86, tire makers closed 30 of the 65 tire plants in the U.S. and constructed just five new factories. Of the shuttered plants, the URW had represented workers at all but one.
While Stone's critics said he wasn't confrontational enough, Stone was seen by supporters as being a realist that led by taking a different approach to negotiations with tire companies, and who never got the recognition he deserved.
For his part, Stone made no apologies for not taking the URW out on the long strikes that were the hallmark of Bommarito's 15-year tenure.
"I never looked at that as a sign of weakness," he said in 1998. "It's a lot harder to stop a strike than it is to start one. I always figured you were better off if you didn't have to strike. You never say never, but you have to weigh the consequences."
J. Curt Brown, retired URW public relations director said "Stone was a true trade unionist and a person of humility and high intelligence who dedicated his life to improving the lives of working women and men. He had a great sense of humor but was deadly serious about the needs of working people."
Stan Johnson, current USW International secretary/treasurer and chair of the union's Rubber and Plastics Industry Conference, remembers Stone as a "true leader and a champion for working families."
"He was a visionary leader with an unyielding commitment, absolute integrity and a huge heart," Johnson said. "Mike dedicated his life to ensuring that workers had a voice on the job and their families shared in the wealth created by their hard work. Mike will be sadly missed by all he touched through his outstanding leadership, dedication and sacrifice."
Stone is survived by his wife, Patricia; son Bruce; daughter Cheryl Komlanc; sister Leatrice Solberg; brother Lamoine Stone; and 14 grandchildren.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn., 38105.