Goodyear workers strike for safety, jobs, health care

As the holiday season approaches, 15,000 workers at Goodyear plants in 10 U.S. states and three Canadian cities, members of the United Steelworkers, walk the picket lines, as the union ramps up a national solidarity campaign.

The workers had watched as the world’s largest tire corporation increased the value of its stock 500 percent and enjoyed 2005 profits of $489 million. Then they saw Goodyear decide to rob retired rubber workers of their health care, slash wages by 40 percent and close its Tyler, Texas, plant, destroying 1,100 jobs and placing thousands of motorists at risk by getting rid of skilled union tire makers.

With no movement from Goodyear at the bargaining table, the workers voted to strike Oct. 5, and have been on the picket lines ever since.

“They picked the wrong fight with the wrong union at the wrong time,” USW President Leo Gerard told reporters in Akron, Ohio, during a union solidarity rally. “There’s a deep, deep, deep sense of betrayal amongst our members. I think there’s a public sense of betrayal in communities where our members work and live with their families. And I think when we tell the public the story, that sense of betrayal is going to expand.”

The story of that betrayal dates back to 2003, when the workers granted Goodyear massive concessions and agreed to close a plant to protect job security, living standards and retiree health care and pensions. This Oct. 30, after running scab ads in many local newspapers, Goodyear got local county sheriffs to usher “replacement workers” into the plants. The USW workers’ anger exploded into mass picketing at the gates. That same day, Goodyear gave the union formal notice of the Tyler closing.

Goodyear is using a billion-dollar line of credit to pay for its strike costs, but insists that it can’t afford $50 million to retool and keep the Tyler plant open. However Jim Wansley, president of USW Local 746 at Tyler, says, “Our people have become more and more determined.” Wansley told GlobalTireNews, an industry publication, “The only way they’ll close the plant is if they whip the whole Steelworkers organization. Nobody ever won anything by retreating.”

In Danville, Va., hundreds of members of USW Local 831 massed at the Goodyear gates at the crack of dawn Oct. 30. They lined the streets screaming “scab” as replacement workers, flanked by scores of police, drove through the picket line. At quitting time, hundreds of union workers “greeted” the departing scabs, even louder, local media reported. Local 831 Vice President Terry Trull said the union would be there every day.

Union rubber workers are angry about the scabs, but they’re also concerned about safety, both for workers and the public.

Local 831 member Bobby Bryant said the “replacement workers” risk severe injury because they do not know how to operate the machinery.

The USW says drivers are at risk too. The union cites a Princeton University study that linked the use of scabs with production of defective tires. It looked at the 2000 recall of 14.4 million tires by Firestone and Ford following the bitter Bridgestone-Firestone strike in which the corporation used “replacement workers.” The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration concluded that 271 deaths and 800 injuries resulted from defective Bridgestone-Firestone tires produced during the strike.

The strikers are reaching out for support from the entire 850,000-member USW, as well as other unions, churches and communities across the country. On Nov.18, scores of picket lines and rallies were staged at Goodyear dealerships urging customers to reconsider buying Goodyear tires.

The United Mine Workers union was among the first to answer the call. “Our USW brothers and sisters working at Goodyear are standing up for good jobs and a dignified retirement not just for themselves but for every American worker,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “We in the UMWA know what it means for companies to make promises to workers then try to go back on their word. It’s an all too familiar pattern of corporate behavior in this day and age. But that does not make it right and we’re proud to stand with the USW to let this multinational corporation know that they cannot treat American workers with such disregard.”

The USW is making use of a new weapon: You Tube. The union’s Goodyear Alert web page (www.usw.org) features several powerful You Tube videos and a radio spot ad. After viewing one of the videos, Jerry Laycak wrote in the Comments section, “If corporate America has already forgotten about the ‘clout’ shown by organized labor on Nov. 7, then shame on them!”

Another viewer wrote, “I support Goodyear union members. I worked for Continental Tire in Charlotte, N.C., for 28 years. My father and my father-in-law are both retirees from Continental Tire in Charlotte, and Continental Tire is trying to do the same thing there.” The writer continued, “The American people should wake up. As goes the union, so goes the rest of working America.”

dwinebr696 @ aol.com