Illinois factory union feeling singled out

Friday, August 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DECATUR, Ill. – Workers at Bridgestone/Firestone's Decatur tire plant say they feel unfairly singled out by the company's voluntary recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires.

The government is investigating complaints that link the tires to nearly 300 failures and at least 46 deaths.

The subsidiary of Tokyo's Bridgestone Corp. based in Nashville, Tenn., said Wednesday that the Decatur plant "is over-represented in the accident claims and reports compared with other plants."

Workers and company officials defended the work done at the Decatur facility, saying the recalled models – 2.7 million 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made in Decatur, as well as ATX and ATX II tires made in Decatur and at other plants in North America – represent a small fraction of the 26,000 tires made at the plant each day.

"All these tires, no matter where they're made, come from the same stock and design used by all the manufacturers," 32-year plant veteran Harland Smith said Wednesday.

"That's why it's real confusing when they say so many of the bad tires come from here."

Tim Terneus, a union painter who has worked 13 years at the plant, wondered if the plant was mentioned because workers there are involved in contract negotiations.

"We were kind of disappointed they singled us out," he said.

Decatur was identified because the plant produced the only models of Wilderness tires that were recalled, company spokesman David Saltz said.

He added that there is nothing wrong with the work done at Decatur and that the plant no longer makes any of three tire models recalled.

"At any one time there are 140-150 different products in production here," Mr. Saltz said.

"It's a very small portion of what's made here."

Workers picketing outside the plant, as they have every day for three weeks, were more interested in talking about the fact that they are working without a contract than about the tire recall.

"All we know is what's been on the news," said Mr. Smith, a mobilization coordinator for the United Steelworkers' local that represents 1,800 Decatur tire factory workers.

Talks are continuing, but union leaders and company officials said they hope to avoid a work stoppage.

Workers in Decatur said they will go on strike if necessary over issues that include scheduling, vacation days, seniority and mandatory overtime.