Strikers at Goodyear firm
in fight against takebacks
'We're fighting for every union,' workers say
United Steelworkers members on strike against Goodyear picket Gadsden, Alabama, plant October 8.
BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
AND DAVID FERGUSON
GADSDEN, AlabamaThe way I see it were out here fighting for every union, said Eddie Elkins, a striker on the picket line at the Goodyear Tire plant here. Other companies are taking a look at what theyre doing to us to see what they can do to their workers.
Some 15,000 workers at 16 Goodyear plants in the United States and Canada, members of the United Steelworkers union (USW), have been on strike since October 5 against company efforts to cut wages by up to 40 percent, eliminate retiree medical benefits, and close plants.
Negotiations between the two sides resumed November 14 for the first time since the strike began. The USW reported in its Solidarity Alert that day that Goodyear insisted on its demand to slash its financial obligation to retirees health care plan by $500 million, which the union rejected.
Elkins, a member of USW Local 12L with 33 years at the Gadsden factory, said the company had started bringing in a busload of 100 scabs into the plant each day. So far they havent been very productive. Theyve destroyed more tires than theyve produced, he said.
One of the key reasons pickets said they walked off the job was the bosses demand to cut health benefits for retirees. Theyre on a fixed income and cant work any overtime like we can to make up for less benefits, Elkins said. Im striking for them, but thats my future too because one day I will be a retiree.
Strikers described how the employers cried bankruptcy three years ago and demanded that workers at the Gadsden plant swallow concessions, including taking away two years of their retirement. Now workers who retire after 30 years, receive retirement pay based only on 28 years of service.
In 2003 when the company claimed it was about to go bankrupt, they wanted us to give up COLA [cost-of-living adjustment], make payments on medical benefits, give up two years of service, and give up other concessions, said union member Buddy Rawls.
Well, things got better for the company but we never got our two years back, and now we make payments on health insurance.
Now the bosses are pushing to eliminate the cost-of-living increases as a way of making the workers pay for health benefits, strikers explained. We started giving up concessions in 1984 and every contract proposed since then has been what were going to give up, not what were going to get. They keep demanding cuts. Its nothing but corporate greed, Rawls said.
He pointed to other company moves to boost its profits at the expense of workers in the plant, including eliminating jobs of supervisors by dubbing hourly employees leads and making them take over supervisory responsibilities. They also combined jobs when some workers retired and never replaced them, Rawls said.
In 1999 Goodyear bought 75 percent of Sumitomo Industries of Japan, which owned Dunlop Tires, Goodyears top competitor in the United States. The company made this move to strengthen its position in markets overseas, workers on the picket line noted. Then in 2003 Goodyear closed the Dunlop plant in Huntsville Alabama, affecting 1,100 hourly and salaried employees there.
BY JOHN STEELE
TORONTOIf they had offered us the status quo in the beginning instead of demands for concessions, we probably would have taken it, said Goodyear striker Tyler Froman on the picket line November 11. But now I wont go back unless we get back at least what we have lost so far and more.
Froman said his view was the most general view among the 60 strikers at the Goodyear warehouse and tire retread facilities on the west side of Toronto.
Even though they are hoping something will come of the renewed talks, strikers are preparing for a long strike if necessary. They have built shelters at picket lines and piled up a large supply of wood to burn in the burn barrels to keep warm in the winter weather that is coming.
Meanwhile the bosses, using management and temporary workers, continue to truck tires out of the plant to supply Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, and the auto assembly industry.