Firestone Strike Averted

More than 8,400 Bridgestone/Firestone workers at nine plants remained poised to strike at a moment’s notice today, but union negotiators said progress was being made in round-the-clock talks with the embattled tire company.

About 90 minutes before workers in Ohio and six other states planned to walk off the job at midnight today, negotiators with the United Steelworkers of America agreed to indefinitely postpone the strike deadline.

It was welcome news to Nashville-based Bridgestone/Firestone Inc., already hit with the recall of 6.5 million allegedly defective tires, a Labor Day weekend warning from the federal government that another 1.4 million might have problems, and wide-ranging investigations into allegations that Firestone tires caused at least 88 deaths in the U.S. and more overseas.

Pulling the Plug At Any Time

“We’re still encouraged by the progress that is being made in the negotiations, and we hope to work through the remaining issues as soon as possible,” Bridgestone/Firestone spokeswoman Cynthia McCafferty said Saturday.

But Garry Manning, president of the United Steelworkers of America’s Local 1055 in LaVergne, cautioned that the union “could pull the plug at any time.”

“There was no extension signed. It’s just hour to hour, minute by minute,” Manning said from the hotel in suburban St. Louis where talks were taking place.

He declined to say what sticking points remain, but earlier the union said it couldn’t agree to company proposals on mandatory overtime, pension and insurance changes and seniority rights.

The company says a strike would have minimal impact on production or on its efforts to produce enough tires to replace those involved in the recall, saying that most of the replacement tires are being made at nonunion plants in the Carolinas or a Canadian factory covered by a separate union contract.

Union officials and industry analysts scoff. Already, many company stores are low on stock or running out of replacement tires.

Keep it Moving

A strike would involve 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.

Bridgestone/Firestone has 28 U.S. plants.

Terry Slaughter, executive director of the Steelworkers Local 998 in Oklahoma City, where 1,668 workers make passenger and light truck tires, said the union’s preparations to strike helped kick-start the talks, which began in March. A week after the company was pressured to issue the recall, on Aug. 9, the union gave its 14-day notice to strike.

“The company saw that we were poised and ready to go out, and started moving,” Slaughter said. “Now, we’re waiting to see if they plan to keep on moving. We’ll have a contract in very short order or we’ll have a strike.”

The government issued a consumer warning Friday saying about 1.4 million Bridgestone/Firestone tires are susceptible to tread separation problems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the “consumer advisory” was issued after Bridgestone/Firestone refused to expand its voluntary recall. The warning covers additional 15-inch Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires, and some 16-inch models of the same brands.

In Venezuela, officials have recommended criminal prosecution of Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford in accidents believed to be linked to the tires.