Tire Union reaches tentative agreement


Monday, September 4th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NASHVILLE, Tenn.-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and union negotiators reached a tentative agreement on three-year contracts governing workers at nine U.S. factories, averting a potential strike at the tire company already burdened with a major recall and several investigations.

After nearly round-the-clock sessions at a hotel in St. Louis, executives of the United Steelworkers of America and the Nashville-based tire company agreed on broad terms Sunday and will return Monday morning to finalize the deals, said John Sellers, one of the union's negotiators.

Sellers declined to discuss details but said early Monday, "We think that it's an agreement that will certainly meet our members' needs."

The tentative agreement consists of one master contract that covers seven factories, and two local contracts in two other factories. The union's membership would need to ratify the deal.

Christine Karbowiak, a Firestone spokeswoman, said the company was "extremely pleased" about the tentative agreement. "We negotiated in good faith to create tentative agreements that we believe serve the best interest of our customers, our employees and our company," she said.

"The timing could have been better but I think both parties here wanted to get this done," said Saul Solomon, chief negotiator for Firestone. "What we have to do now is focus on getting together, keeping the plants operating and helping out."

"I was relieved," said fork lift operator Kevin Hilderbrand, who was finishing the overnight shift early Monday at Firestone's LaVergne plant. "They need people in there. They've got to make up for all those tires."

Asked if last month's recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires and a government investigation into the tires was used as leverage by the union, Sellers said: "I've never looked at it that way."

The federal government is investigating three Firestone brands in connection with 88 U.S. traffic deaths, and it issued a consumer warning Friday saying 1.4 million additional Bridgestone/Firestone tires are susceptible to tread separation problems.

Congress will open hearings this week aimed at determining when Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. knew about the tire problems. The tires were original equipment on some Ford trucks and sport utility vehicles.

Soon after talks began publicly of a recall, reports showed that some of the recalled tires had been made by replacement workers during a previous strike.

The United Steelworkers of America, which represents workers at nine of the company's 28 U.S. plants, gave its 14-day strike notice just a week after the company was pressured to issue the recall.

Bridgestone/Firestone had said a strike would have had minimal impact on its production, and most of its replacement tires are being made at nonunion plants or a Canadian factory covered by a separate union contract.

The strike would have included 8,400 workers at factories in Akron, Ohio; Bloomington, Ill.; Decatur, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; Oklahoma City; LaVergne, Tenn.; Morrison, Tenn.; Noblesville, Ind.; and Russellville, Ark.

"If the workers get what they want, fine. But I'm more for what benefits the company," said Carlos Johnson, a supervisor at the LaVergne plant. "I'll just really be happy when everything gets back to normal and we can go back to doing what we do best: making tires."

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On the Net:

United Steelworkers of America: http://www.uswa.org

Bridgestone/Firestone: http://www.bridgestone-firestone.com

Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov