Negotiators Continue Tire Talks

Sunday, September 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Talks between Bridgestone/Firestone and union negotiators stretched through the early morning hours Sunday as both sides tried to avert a strike by more than 8,400 workers.

Employees at nine tire plants remained poised to strike at a moment's notice.

``There was no extension signed. It's just hour to hour, minute by minute,'' said Garry Manning, president of the United Steelworkers of America's Local 1055 in LaVergne. He cautioned that the union ``could pull the plug at any time.''

The negotiators have been meeting continuously since the union indefinitely postponed a strike deadline Friday night. A company spokeswoman said late Saturday that the tone of the talks was constructive.

Union and company officials declined to say what remained to be worked out in the contract talks. Previously, the union has said the two sides couldn't agree on mandatory overtime, seniority rights, and pension and insurance changes.

The strike postponement was welcome news to the beleaguered Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which has increased its production after recalling 6.5 million tires under investigation in 88 U.S. deaths. The federal government also issued a Labor Day weekend warning that an additional 1.4 million tires might have problems.

The Nashville-based company has said a strike would have minimal impact on production. Most of its replacement tires are being made at non-union plants or a Canadian factory covered by a separate union contract.

A strike would involve tire factories in Akron, Ohio; Bloomington, Ill.; Decatur, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; Oklahoma City; and LaVergne and Morrison, Tenn. Also affected would be plants in Noblesville, Ind., which makes air springs, and Russellville, Ark., where tubes for tires are made.

Bridgestone/Firestone has 28 U.S. plants.

Terry Slaughter, executive director of the Steelworkers Local 998 in Oklahoma City, where 1,668 workers make passenger and light truck tires, said the union's preparations to strike helped kick-start the talks, which began in March. A week after the company was pressured to issue the recall, on Aug. 9, the union gave its 14-day notice to strike.

``The company saw that we were poised and ready to go out, and started moving,'' Slaughter said. ``Now, we're waiting to see if they plan to keep on moving. We'll have a contract in very short order or we'll have a strike.''

The government issued a consumer warning Friday saying about 1.4 million Bridgestone/Firestone tires are susceptible to tread separation problems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the ``consumer advisory'' was issued after Bridgestone/Firestone refused to expand its voluntary recall. The warning covers additional 15-inch Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires, and some 16-inch models of the same brands.

In Venezuela, officials have recommended criminal prosecution of Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford in accidents believed to be linked to the tires.