Recalled Tires may have been made during '94 strike

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Many of the 6.5 million Firestone tires being recalled were made during a strike at the company's Decatur, Ill., plant, Ford Motor Co. said Sunday.

Ford conducted an analysis of its Firestone tires and the complaints it had received to pin down where the tires were made and what may have caused the treads on some to separate. The tires are under investigation in hundreds of crashes that caused at least 46 deaths.

Most of the recalled tires – radial ATX, radial ATX II and some Wilderness AT brands – are on Ford sport utility vehicles and light trucks.

The number of complaints was 10 times higher for the 15-inch ATX tires made in Decatur than for the Wilderness tires, said Jason Vines, Ford's vice president of communications.

"The data and the analysis of the data is that there's a problem with Decatur and that other plants are world-class," Mr. Vines said during a teleconference with reporters and officials at Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., which is based in Nashville.

Few problems were reported with the ATX tires in 1991, he said. But the number of reported problems with tread separation rose on tires made in Decatur in 1994.

At the time, United Rubber Workers union workers at the plant were in a 10-month-old strike, and the plant was operating with replacement workers and managers.

Bridgestone/Firestone said the strike, which ended in early 1995, had nothing to do with the problems.

"That's a pretty far reach," spokeswoman Christine Karbowiak said.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that six former Decatur plant workers claim questionable quality-control procedures were used at the plant in the mid-1990s.

The workers said, among other things, that employees punctured bubbles in tires to conceal flaws that should have caused the tires to be scrapped.

In full-page ads in major newspapers, Ford spelled out that just 15-inch versions of the ATX, ATX II and some Wilderness tires are being recalled.

The Ford analysis of Firestone tires showed the number of claims was as low as 31 for some Firestone original-equipment tires. But the 15-inch tires had 2,030 claims so far this year.

Of that number, 1,864 involved the ATX tires, Ford said.

Texas had the highest number of complaints, about 370. Arizona reported about 280 claims, and about 230 were recorded in California and 170 in Florida.

The tires involved in the recall are P235/75R15 Firestone radial ATX and radial ATX II tires and Wilderness AT tires carrying the code "VD."