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News > Companies
Firestone, labor reach deal
September 4, 2000: 7:13 p.m. ET

Troubled tire maker inks tentative pact with labor, union local chief says
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and union officials reached tentative agreement on a labor contract Monday, averting a strike that could have further damaged the reputation of the tire maker in the midst of a massive recall.

Garry Manning, the president of the Local 1055L Steelworkers Union, didn't release details of the pact Monday. "There are a lot of things in there that address our needs," said Manning. "Any agreement would still require the approval of the union's rank and file."

About 8,000 union members at nine Bridgestone/Firestone plants will vote on the tentative agreements over the next two weeks.

The troubled tire maker also reached an agreement over the weekend with another adversary, the Venezuelan consumer protection agency Indecu, to recall 62,000 tires made in that South American country that the agency has linked to at least 46 deaths there. The agency had recommended criminal charges against the tire maker and automaker Ford Motor Co. last Thursday as a result of the deaths.

The recall, to be announced in Venezuelan newspaper advertisements Tuesday, will mostly affect Ford sport/utility vehicles, such as its best-selling Explorer.

But as the tire maker tried to put some of its problems behind it, it was faced with a fresh report of another fatal accident involving a Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone tires.

Non-stop talks avert strike


The union had threatened to walk early Saturday without a new agreement, but it instead kept its members on the job as talks continued around the clock over the weekend.

The company said that the tentative agreement includes no compromises that would affect tire quality.

graphic"We are extremely pleased to announce that Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and the United Steelworkers of America have reached tentative agreements on three contracts covering 8,000 workers at nine facilities in eight states," said Christine Karbowiak, a Firestone spokeswoman.

Union officials at the site of the St. Louis talks called the tentative three-year agreements beneficial for members.

"In a general sense I can tell you there's definitely improvements in wage and pension and there's definite improvement in non-economic issues, such as seniority rights, grievance and arbitration procedures, attendance programs, things like that," said Wayne Ranick, spokesman for the United Steelworkers of America in Pittsburgh. "There are both general wage increases and cost-of-living increases."

Union spokesman John Duray said some final details needed to be cleaned up in talks Monday, and that the specifics of the pacts should be released to members Tuesday. He said it was a "vast improvement" on the previous labor contracts.

A union spokesman said the tire recall was not a major factor in the talks, but a company official admitted the recall did not help management's position at the table.

"The timing could have been better, but I think both parties here wanted to get this done," said Saul Solomon, chief negotiator for Firestone.

The union's rank and file expressed satisfaction that a strike had been avoided this time.

"I was relieved," said Kevin Hilderbrand, a forklift operator at the suburban Nashville, Tenn., plant, after he finished an overnight shift early Monday. "They need people in there. They've got to make up for all those tires."

A history of poor labor relations


The agreement would replace four separate contracts that expired in March and April. The workers have stayed on the job under an extension accord. Some of the expired contracts that the tentative pacts would replace were reached in 1996 after a bitter strike that included use of replacement workers by Bridgestone/Firestone. The union alleged replacement workers made many of the tires involved in the 6.5 million tire recall during that labor dispute.Production at the plants will continue as the union takes a ratification vote among its members.

Amont the sticking points in the contarct talks were job security, medical benefits, overtime and the use of temporary workers.

Bridgestone/Firestone has said most of its replacement tires are being made at non-union plants in North Carolina, South Carolina and a Canadian factory covered by a separate union contract. The company has also been airlifting tires in from Japan.

A strike would have involved 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.

Other challenges remain for Firestone


Federal safety regulators raise the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the recalled tires to 88 last week, and issued a warning over some models of tires not included in the recall. Sunday, police in Texas said a Ford Explorer equipped with Firestone tires was involved in an accident that killed a 10-year-old boy there and injured several family members, including his parents.

Police told CNN on Monday that tread separated from at least one of the S/UV's Wilderness AT tires. But it was not immediately clear if shredded tread contributed to the Sunday afternoon accident or if it happened after the vehicle tumbled off Interstate 35 in Encinal, Texas, some 40 miles northeast of the border town of Laredo.

"It definitely was a blowout. The vehicle did not skid. The tread separated from the tire," said Jose Martinez, deputy chief of the Webb County Sheriff's Department, said about the single-vehicle accident.

The two companies also face a House subcommittee hearing set for Wednesday into the recall and tire problems. Masatoshi Ono, chairman of Bridgestone/Firestone's Japanese parent Bridgestone Corp., is set to testify at the hearing, aimed at determining when Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford Motor Co. -- whose Ford Explorer sport/utility vehicle is the primary user of the recalled tires -- knew about the problems.

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

The scandal has embroiled Ford, the world's second-largest automaker, which fitted Firestone tires on its Explorer sport/utility vehicles. Venezuela's consumer protection chief has faulted design problems in the vehicles and the tires for contributing to 46 deaths in that nation.

Shares of Bridgestone's stock fell to yet another five-year low Monday in Tokyo trading, dropping 88 yen, to 1,200 yen, (or about 83 cents, or $11.33). Back to top

-- CNNfn.com's London bureau and wire services contributed to this report

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.