- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

The United Steelworkers of America and three of North America’s largest tire manufacturers have yet to reach an agreement on their current labor agreement, which expires tomorrow.

But the steelworkers union and company officials say they are optimistic a resolution can be reached, even if it means negotiating beyond the deadline.

Neither BFGoodrich nor the Steelworkers expect a strike or lockout as they continue talking.

“In these situations, if you’re close to getting a deal done, you’ll go that extra mile on that [deadline] day and keep talking,” United Steelworkers spokesman Wayne Ranick said.

The contracts for all three companies hinge on labor talks with BFGoodrich. The union has selected the company as the target for its current master contract bargaining, meaning the agreement would serve as a template, or pattern agreement, for contracts with the other tire makers.

United Steelworkers represents about 24,000 workers for tire giants BFGoodrich, Goodyear and Bridgestone-Firestone at more than 20 plants across North America.

Mr. Ranick said there “doesn’t appear” to be any significant sticking points that can’t be worked out.

“My sense is that if they’re talking, they’ll get it done,” he said. “I don’t see any overarching issues.”

BFGoodrich spokeswoman Lynn Mann wouldn’t comment on the negotiations specifically but said she was confident a deal could be reached.

Goodyear, the world’s largest tire manufacturer, and the union on Tuesday agreed to extend their current labor agreement beyond Saturday if no deal is reached.

Under the terms of the day-to-day agreement, either party can terminate the extension by providing a three-day notice.

Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said the company has no timetable for a new contract. He said the company will will continue talking with the union.

Talks between United Steelworkers and Bridgestone-Firestone, which has 6,000 employees at plants, also are on hold until the union and BFGoodrich sign a contract.

The United Steelworkers and the tire industry agree that rising health care issues for employees and retirees are among the major issues to be worked out.

The tire makers want a new contract that keeps health care and pension costs in check — benefits United Steelworkers are trying to protect.

Job security is another key issue. BFGoodrich announced July 11 it will reduce production at its Opelika, Ala., facility 30 percent to 40 percent beginning in the fourth quarter of this year.

The decision will result in the indefinite layoff of 30 percent to 40 percent of the plant’s wage employees, the company said.

Ms. Mann declined to say whether the layoffs are hindering the labor talks or if more layoffs are expected.

The United Steelworkers union is negotiating with BFGoodrich to increase capital investment at its plants as a way of staying more competitive, thus saving more jobs.

Jon Rich, president of Goodyear’s North American tire operations, has called the company’s current challenges with foreign competition “unprecedented.”

“We are under attack as never before by foreign competitors,” said Mr. Rich.

The company’s current state of profitability is not sufficient to sustain the investment that will be needed for continued growth, Mr. Rich said.

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