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Tire Workers Oppose New Concessions

October 07, 2006|From the Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio — The strike against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. entered its second day Friday with union workers determined to press their demands after accepting concessions three years ago that they say were crucial to the tire maker's successful turnaround.

"We gave up a lot in the last contract to be treated fairly this time," said Barbra Kielec, a seven-year employee at the Tonawanda, N.Y., plant and one of more than 12,000 Goodyear workers who walked off the job Thursday after months of disagreement between the company and the United Steelworkers union.

"We gave up a lot and they just want to cut everything," she said. "They want to cut wages, benefits, and you just take it personal."

In 2003 the union agreed to allow the company to cut about 6,000 jobs, including closing a plant in Alabama, as well as trim pay, healthcare and pension benefits.

The union said Goodyear's proposal this time around would cut pay and hurt retiree benefits and included plans to close factories in Gadsden, Ala., and Tyler, Texas, that employ about 2,190 people.

That's a slap in the face, say workers who believe they helped get Goodyear back in the black.

"Two billion dollars in concessions in 2003. Now they want more," said Mike Roop as he sat near a barrel fire warming pickets outside Goodyear's headquarters in Akron.

Roop, 50, who has worked for 28 years at a plant that makes tires for NASCAR race cars, said rank-and-file workers were determined not to give in this time.

The company, which says it is maintaining production at nonunion plants and by depending on salaried employees and imports, said the union refused to agree to help Goodyear remain competitive in a global economy. It said its latest offer protected jobs and provided for retiree medical benefits.

Several messages left Friday with Goodyear officials were not immediately returned. No new talks have been scheduled.

John Russo, a labor studies professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio, said past concessions might motivate the strikers. He characterized their likely attitude as, "It's our turn. We took concessions for at least the last six years. We've downsized. We've closed plants."

Goodyear has previously been vocal about the vital role the union played in its $1-billion turnaround plan.

In 2003, the company flirted with filing for bankruptcy protection, losing more than $1 billion, taking on billions in debt and seeing its shares dive from $20 in 2002 to below $4.

On Friday, the shares rose 22 cents to $14.46.

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