Nate Trachsel was the Akron labor leader who didn’t strike.
In the nation’s bicentennial year of 1976, the soft-spoken Trachsel, then 38, was a rising star in the United Rubber Workers union. He was being groomed for a high leadership post in the union — possibly the successor to Peter “The Bomber” Bommarito, the URW’s feisty and flamboyant leader who over the years led many walkouts during contentious contract talks with the city’s tire makers.
That same year, Bommarito called a strike when tense contract negotiations broke down. A big issue involved the union’s demand for a cost-of-living allowance, or COLA, as that era’s high inflation was eroding the buying power of many paychecks.
Tens of thousands of people in URW locals at Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich walked out for 141 days. It turned out to be the longest, most far-reaching strike in rubber industry history, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
But Trachsel, a former tire worker, Akron native and president of URW Local 9 at General Tire, opted not to have his local join the national strike. He thought General’s aging, four-story Akron Plant 1 was vulnerable to a shutdown.
So approximately 1,800 General Tire workers in Akron kept churning out tires and getting paid while striking URW members at the other companies went without paychecks. And Trachsel had derailed his career as a top union labor leader.
“It was terribly, terribly difficult,” Trachsel told the Beacon Journal years later about that period. Essentially, he traded his future for what he felt was right at the time. He thought a long strike would weaken the tire companies and lead to job losses.
Nathan Bryan Trachsel died Feb. 3 at the age of 74.
He was born in Akron in 1938 and graduated from Garfield High School in 1956. He worked two years on a loading dock before getting a job at Goodyear making hose products. He then moved to B.F. Goodrich and eventually started building tires and working his way up through the union ranks. He was voted URW Local 9 president in 1967, a position he held into the early 1980s.
He is survived by his former wife, Lois; children Bryan, Tammy, David and Natalie, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Arrangements are by Newcomer Funeral Home. The family said in his obituary that he wished to be cremated and his ashes scattered in the ocean off the Florida Keys, where he had lived at one time.
In 1979, Trachsel was named the executive director of Akron’s labor-management committee where he advocated harmonious labor-management relationships. A Beacon Journal editorial praised his appointment, calling him “an effective problem solver” and highly respected by his labor peers and by business executives.
In a Jan. 1, 1980, guest column in the Beacon Journal, Trachsel wrote, “The time has come for labor and management to join hands in a common goal of survival. ... Labor and management must find a way to sit down and discuss their problems, find viable solutions and promote whatever is necessary for our community to compete in the present day marketplace.” He encouraged downtown revitalization and economic development.
His philosophy was reflected in how he handled the rubber industry strike of 1976 and the aftermath.
When the strike ended after President Gerald Ford intervened by sending Labor Secretary William Usery to help mediate, the Rubber Workers got the COLA they had sought. Shortly afterword, General Tire workers were rewarded with the same benefit. The Beacon Journal’s “Wheels of Fortune” series about the tire industry said General’s workers were the biggest winners with a pact that included bonuses and pension increases that the strikers didn’t get.
In subsequent contract talks, Trachsel was seen as a new kind of labor leader who would listen to and work with management, the paper wrote.
In 1980, Trachsel in a speech said Akron needed to change a national reputation as “Strike City” and work to attract new industry and increase jobs.
“It is up to us here and now to change that image and give Akron a new, vigorous, enthusiastic reputation as a city where all factories are in complete harmony,” he said.
The Rubber Workers union was permanently weakened after the 1976 strike. It folded into the United Steelworkers following another lengthy strike in 1995. Local 9 was retired as a USW designation in 1997.
Trachsel had hoped to see the construction of a new General Tire plant in Akron to replace the 1915-era, four-story structure the company operated.
The local negotiated a concessionary contract, including wage cuts, in 1979 that the company said was necessary to keep Plant 1 open and was a first step to a new facility. But in 1982 General Tire announced it was closing the factory, Akron’s last full-scale tire plant, and would not build a new one.
Trachsel called the announcement “a devastating blow.”
He also said that he realized before he became president in 1967 it was obvious General Tire couldn’t make it with the old facility.
Trachsel had worked to try to get a new General Tire factory built in Akron. “We took our best shot and we just didn’t make it,” he told the Beacon Journal.
Shortly after the plant closed, he moved to the Florida Keys.
He told the Beacon Journal that he welcomed the opportunity to leave the tire industry after leading the union’s fight to keep the Plant 1 jobs in Akron. “There was really nothing left for me to do,” Trachsel said then. “I was hurt so bad.”
His obituary noted that he returned in 1996 to Akron, “spending time fishing, drinking Budweiser and being with family and friends.”
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.