BREAKING NEWS: Union City Goodyear plant strikes
Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Updated: Monday, April 25, 2011 21:04
Negotiations between the United Steelworkers and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for a nationwide contract came to an urgent end with the strike of union workers including those employed at the Union City, Tenn. plant as of noon Thursday, Oct. 5.The USW workers of Union City joined the efforts of the national union by striking alongside the greater part of 15,000 other workers across the United States and Canada. Thursday culminated the negotiation period between USW and Goodyear. The strike was called nationwide to protest the closing of two plants in Tyler, Texas and Gadsden, Ala.
Union City USW members are walking picket lines at the three main entrances of the Goodyear plant. Workers have been put on a schedule which includes a four hour shift out on the picket line. The strikers will not receive pay until the strike ends. However, a minor stipend will be given from a strike assistance fund if the strike continues beyond three weeks.
The Union members’ demands are simple said Willis Hicks, union representative for the Union City USW.
“We want to keep all USW plants open. We want a fair and equitable contract. We do not want Goodyear to try to cut our benefits. But most importantly, we want Goodyear to remember us and remember how we helped them in the past,” Hicks said.
Hicks feels that USW was forced into the strike. The main focus of the USW is to keep the current benefits and pension plan they have with Goodyear minus a concession package agreed upon in 2003.
On the other hand Goodyear has concerns of its own.
“We simply cannot accept a contract that knowingly creates a competitive disadvantage versus our foreign-owned competition and increases our cost disadvantage versus imports,” said Jim Allen, Goodyear’s chief negotiator.
The strike is the effect of many unresolved issues between Goodyear and USW dating back to 2003. In 2003, with Goodyear on the verge of bankruptcy, the USW agreed to come to the company’s aid and accept a concessionary package. This package issued that USW members would take a cut to their benefits and pensions. Because of these efforts, Goodyear climbed out of the red. Now, three years later, faced with two plant closings and no contract to meet their demands, the union workers feel it is time that they act.
For many USW workers in Union City, the strike came as an answer to prayers.
“We are a very versatile plant, producing 80 to 90 different types of tires. Some of our jobs are pretty rough. The head is tremendous, there are chemicals that we deal with; so we truly earn our money. But the Goodyear company wants us to take more wage cuts and reduce our benefits, and we just can’t let that happen,” said USW member and Union City resident who asked to remain anonymous.
However, other members of the union are less enthusiastic about the walk out. Max Burney, one of 2250 USW members at the Union City plant, feels that he and fellow union members are being forced into a catch 22.
“It all boils down to the fact that they [Goodyear] are going to shut down two plants and there is nothing we can do about it,” said Burney. “I am paying $900 a year. Is this really the best they [USW] can do for me?”
Burney believes that the union is hosting the strike simply to save face so that the rest of the members believe that the national union is truly concerned, and he also believes the Union is powerless against Goodyear.
This issue affects more than a grid locked company and a frustrated union. The strike has had effects all over the nation, including the west Tennessee region. Union City is affected by this strike and its outcome both philanthropically and economically.
“The USW workers here in Union City give money to the Walk of Hope. We help with the Habitat for Humanity. We also give a lot of money, over $20,000, to the Telethon of Stars. If we are put out of work, it is very possible that we will not be able to give to charities like we have in the past,” said Hicks.
Beyond the charitable efforts of the USW, these workers also bring money back into the economy of the surrounding areas.
“If this plant goes under, the city will take a hit. Our members live in this area so money is definitely pumped back into it,” said Burney.
Many community businesses have taken action to give aid. Rural King has cut the cost of tents used by the strikers at their picket lines from $110 to $40 and given a 20% discount on food and drinks to go to the strikers. Hicks believes that more donations are soon to come.
UTM students have also felt the effects of the strike as well.
“My dad isn’t part of the union, but now he has to go down to the floor and build tires and do the works of the union; so does my step-mom,” said Tommy Gossett, freshmen UTM student, who later stated that he feared not being able to see his parents as much now that the strike has occurred.
The USW has not faced a strike of any weight since 1976. The strike lasted 11 months when they were also faced with the closing of another plant in Huntsville, Ala.
Subsequently, the end of the current strike is unforeseen, but Hicks said that the union will not back down.
“We plan to be out here one day longer that Goodyear can stand,” Hicks said.
Tom Gossett, human relations manager for the Goodyear plant in Union City, said that he had no comment at this time and deferred questions to Goodyear’s Public Relations Manager Jimmy Cagle. When asked, Cagle said the he could not comment at this time, and further deferred questions to Ed Markey who remains unavailable for comment at this time.