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Hard feelings at Goodyear after strike

Despite a new contract, relations are rocky between management and union members as work resumes after a three-month walkout.

January 02, 2007|From the Associated Press

AKRON, OHIO — The contract has been approved, the picket lines and fire barrels taken down, but some hard feelings remain among Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. workers who will return to work today after a three-month strike that at times got ugly.

"Personally, I feel there's going to be a hard line drawn between management and associates," said Dan Levin, who has worked at the Sun Prairie, Wis., plant for 12 years. "Talk to me about my line. Talk to me about my work. Small talk? Forget about it. There's going to be a division, like the China wall."

Workers at 12 plants in 10 states ended their strike Friday by approving a three-year agreement covering 14,000 employees. The pact includes plans to close a Texas tire factory and creates a $1-billion healthcare fund for retirees.

The contract was approved by all 12 locals and by the overall membership by a 2-1 ratio.

Before the strike, relations between workers and management at the plant were good, Levin said. It will take a while to mend the wounds, he said.

The company said the pact would help reduce its costs by $610 million over three years and $300 million a year thereafter.

Most workers are expected to be back on the job today.

"What we expect is that both Goodyear and its workers now get back to being one team," Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said. "The focus is on serving the customer and beating the competition."

Some members of the United Steelworkers union were optimistic about rebuilding their relationship with company management.

"Overall when we get back in there, they're going to be happy for us to get in there," said John Rutherford, president of union Local 843L in Marysville, Ohio. "I don't think they're going to be overbearing and slapping us back into shape. We're looking forward to getting back into the routine."

Rutherford held resentment only for temporary workers who filled their jobs for weeks, saying there would be no tension, "as long as the scabs are out well before we get back in there."

Al Tomasello, a nine-year employee at the Tonawanda, N.Y., plant near Buffalo, said he believed that both sides lost in the labor dispute and that he looked forward to returning.

"I'm excited. I can't wait to get back to work next week," Tomasello said. "We were happy the way the company finally came around and did give us the things we were looking for."

Goodyear ultimately agreed to put $1 billion into a healthcare fund for retired union workers' medical benefits. That was higher than the company's previous $660-million offer but less than the union's call for about double that amount.

Other workers still had raw emotions, like those in Sun Prairie who tell stories of some managers smiling and waving their paychecks at workers on the picket lines. It will take a while to forget about that, said Jodi Dushack, a 12-year worker.

"Some of the management was OK to us, but some rubbed it in our faces," she said. "It's going to be hard because a lot of them you thought were your friends turned out to be, what word should I use, vulgar."

Dave Prentice, a worker on temporary assignment with United Steelworkers Local 2L in Akron, expected a long healing process.

"There were a lot of wounds inflicted," he said, "and people are going to have to heal and get back into the business of producing a quality product."

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