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Retired Workers Criticize Bridgestone Tire Plant in Depositions

Automobiles: Company officials defend work at the facility and say the former employees are disgruntled.

August 24, 2000|From Associated Press

DECATUR, Ill. — Four retired tire makers told lawyers Wednesday that Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. put quantity ahead of quality at its Decatur, Ill., factory, according to attorneys suing the company.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based company defended its Decatur plant, which produced most of the 6.5 million truck tires recalled earlier this month for safety reasons.

Bruce Kaster, a lawyer representing several people in Florida who are suing Bridgestone/Firestone, said the retired workers gave sworn depositions that will be used in personal injury and wrongful-death lawsuits linked to faulty Firestone tires.

The retirees said they were required to build tires from outdated rubber and craftsmanship suffered under the strain of mandatory 12-hour shifts, according to Kaster.

For its part, Bridgestone/Firestone said the four witnesses are disgruntled former employees who left the plant during a bitter strike in the mid-1990s.

"It's important to keep in context and view with a critical eye what they told you and what they testified to today," company spokesman Jim Prescott said.

But Kaster said the company's portrayal of the men was wrong.

"That's the brush they want to paint these guys with," said Kaster, who may eventually call in the retired workers to testify in court. "I don't see them in that light. Some of them are very private people, and this is a little bit overwhelming for them."

Also present during the depositions were lawyers from Bridgestone/Firestone, Ford Motor Co. and a Florida tire store that is named as a defendant in one lawsuit, Kaster said.

All but one witness refused to comment, dodging dozens of reporters camped outside the law office where the depositions were taken.

Joe Roundtree, a former plant worker who retired in 1996, disputed the company's claim that he is testifying because he is disgruntled.

"I would like to think I could keep someone else from getting hurt," Roundtree said.

Roundtree said he told the lawyers that only 10 to 20 seconds were spent inspecting each tire, but sometimes tires were moving so fast that some couldn't be inspected at all.

He also said workers swabbed a solvent on outdated rubber so that it could still be used to make tires.

Roundtree also said that replacement workers hired during the strike did not get adequate training and did not have enough experience to make the same quality tires as were made prior to the strike.

"You can't take 1,400 people and put them on the street, then replace them with inexperienced people and expect to get the same product," he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating 62 deaths and more than 100 injuries possibly linked to the recalled tires, which include 15-inch Wilderness AT tires made at the Decatur plant and P235/75R15 ATX and ATX II tires.

* SUV SAFETY CONCERNS

Ford recommended lower tire pressures for its Explorer to reduce the risk of rollover. A1

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