Goodyear labor union strike continues, talks ineffective

By M.R. Kropko The Associated Press

CLEVELAND – Birgit Birgersson-Brorsson, a union officer for IF Metall in Sweden, spent an afternoon recently with strikers on a Goodyear Tire ‘ Rubber Co. picket line. Wood scraps burning in a barrel helped keep them warm.

She came a long way to do that.

“I think it’s very important,” she said. “Companies seem to move plants to Baltic countries and China. Companies are working together worldwide and we need to work together, too.”

Strikers against Goodyear are trying to use their union’s international ties to raise awareness of their two-month strike. The Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers on Tuesday brought a friendly seven-member labor delegation from Sweden to visit strikers in Akron, where Goodyear is based and where it has a small manufacturing plant.

In all, about 12,000 Goodyear workers are on strike in North America.

Birgersson-Brorsson, 46, used the visit to show support.

“We don’t have many strikes in Sweden. I would like to tell them don’t give up. It’s about human rights, really,” she said.

Goodyear workers went on strike Oct. 5 after talks broke down on a new contract. Neither side has said when it will return to talks, which broke off again Nov. 17 after a four-day resumption.

Since the strike began, Goodyear has been making tires at some of its North American plants with nonunion and temporary workers as well as some managers. The company is counting on production at its international plants to help supply North American customers.

Goodyear has said it intends to close its Tyler, Texas, tire plant by next year because the company is ending production of low-profit private-label tires. The union wants all plants protected from closing. The USW also strongly objected to a company proposal for creating a retirees’ health care trust, which the union argues shortchanges retirees.

Goodyear executives have said they are seeking a contract that will help the company be globally competitive.

Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said Goodyear’s only concern is “running our business and making high quality Goodyear tires everyday.”

In 2005, about $9.1 billion of Goodyear’s $19.7 billion of net sales, or about 46 percent, came from its North American Tire segment.