BY NORTON SANDLER
DES MOINES, Iowa - The rubber workers union has taken down its picket lines at Bridgestone/Firestone plants, ending the union's 10-month strike, the longest in United Rubber Workers (URW) history at a major tire manufacturer.
Meeting in Pittsburgh May 19, the union's Policy Committee for Bridgestone plants voted by a three-to-two margin to end the strike. Union officials from the Des Moines and Noblesville, Indiana, locals were the two holdouts, with officers from Akron, Ohio; Decatur, Illinois; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, out-voting them. Jeff Doornenbal, a spokesperson for Local 310 in Des Moines, told the press that the Policy Committee was advised to terminate the strike by top URW officials and a lawyer for the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). Officials from the URW and the USWA are in the process of consummating a merger of the two unions.
Tried to prevent take back contrac
The five URW locals went on strike July 12, 1994, in an attempt to prevent the company from imposing its last and final offer, which included pay cuts, mandatory 12-hour shifts, and slashed medical coverage and vacations.
Bridgestone began hiring strikebreakers soon after the dispute began. On January 4, the company announced that the union members were being permanently replaced. A few days later the local at the company's technical center in Akron voted to end its strike and return to work. The strike was ended unconditionally in Decatur on May 7. So far the company has allowed 60 of that local's 700 members to return to work.
Hundreds of Local 310 members in Des Moines were informed of the Policy Committee's decision at their May 20 union meeting. No membership vote was allowed on the decision to terminate the strike.
The next day the union sent the company a letter saying that it was unconditionally ending the strike and offering to return to work. The company has five days to respond. Union activists expect Bridgestone/Firestone to organize strikebreakers to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to allow union decertification votes at the plants. The URW is pursuing several unfair labor practice charges against the company through the NLRB, which could affect how rapidly a decertification vote can take place.
Local 310 president Bernie Sinclair said the strike is over but the labor dispute is not and that resources from the Steelworkers will be put into strengthening the union's boycott of Bridgestone/Firestone products and in supporting the union's unfair labor practice charges. Sinclair also said the union will organize as best it can under difficult conditions to represent Local 310 members who are recalled to work in the plant.
'We showed solidarity
"Nobody wants to go back. Nobody, even the tire builders, who have the best chance of being recalled," union member Bob Peters explained following a heated union meeting. "The tire builders have been the strength of the strike. They know the company wants us back to train the scabs on how to operate the equipment and then we face the possibility of them firing us with no union protection," Peters stated.
"When I go back across the street into that plant, I'm going to do it with my head held high," Dave Mendenhall, who has more than 20 years in the plant, told the media. "I'm an honorable person and I've stuck with it to the end."
Larry Lewis, who along with his two brothers would not
cross the picket lines, said, "Every person here has shown
the company our solidarity. We've shown that we are not just
bodies. We deserve respect."
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