Beacon Journal staff and wire report
Workers approved a four-year labor contract with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. that affects about 8,000 employees at six U.S. plants and protects against closures at those facilities, union officials said Thursday.
United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard said the contract “improves income, retirement and job security” for workers at Goodyear plants in Akron; Gadsden, Ala.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Topeka, Kan., and Danville, Va.
The union said that Steelworkers passed the contract by a 3-to-1 margin.
USW Local 2 in Akron on Aug. 11 was the first local to vote on the contract. The approximately 300 Local 2 members make NASCAR race tires. The Gadsden, Ala., Steelworkers local on Thursday was the last to vote.
Jim Mason, Goodyear unit president for Local 2, said his Akron-based members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract. The contract provides minimum staffing levels at the Akron facility and guarantees it will remain open for the life of the contract, he said.
Mason said he thought up until July 27, when the previous contract was due to expire, that the union could go on strike.
Local 2 members were preparing for a strike as late as that Saturday, he said. The company and union reached an agreement a bit before 10 p.m. that day, just about two hours before a strike would have been called, he said.
“It was a slow process probably up until the last two days,” Mason said. “I think the members at all our plants did a good job sticking together.”
What helped the sides reach a settlement was when Goodyear negotiators recognized that previous contracts had pay and other inequities involving newly hired workers, he said. Many of those inequities have been fixed in the new contract, he said.
Pension issues were also a major part of the discussions, he said.
Goodyear will be able to freeze Steelworker pensions but only if the pensions are fully funded, Mason said. “I think we got an equitable and fair settlement on that, too, if pensions are frozen.”
The contract protects plants against closure throughout its term, Tom Conway, USW International vice president, said in a statement. Conway was the head of the union’s Goodyear negotiations.
“We also negotiated a commitment from Goodyear to invest in our North American facilities so that future generations can look forward to continuing the tradition of manufacturing in these communities,” Conway said.
Cost of living adjustment coverage was expanded to all USW-represented Goodyear employees, Conway said. The contract also provides more flexibility for Steelworkers to move between jobs within the plants, he said.
The Steelworkers said the new agreement covers about 8,500 union members; Goodyear said it covers about 8,000.
The Akron tire maker declined to comment beyond saying that its chairman and chief executive officer, Richard Kramer, will discuss the new contract in a conference call 9 a.m. Tuesday with industry analysts. Darren Wells, Goodyear’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, will also take part in the call.
Previously, while discussing Goodyear’s second-quarter earnings, Kramer indicated that the then-tentative agreement with the union would help the company.
“We believe we will be able to sustain our competitive position and be ready to take advantage of opportunities when demand begins to accelerate,” he said.
The tire industry has been aided by a revived American auto industry, which had its best performance in five years in 2012. The United Steelworkers acknowledged that link and had indicated that wages, health care and pensions topped the list of issues at the bargaining table.
The union and Goodyear began contract negotiations in the spring with the backdrop of an uncertain economy, shrinking unions and company cost-cutting. They reached the agreement on July 27 to avoid a strike hours before a deadline.
Union members struck in 2006 for three months.