Union members respond to editorial message

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The editorial comment from Modern Tire Dealer Editor Bob Ulrich ("Union lacks respect for differing views," Dec. 3, 2006) sparked many viewpoints, particularly from United Steelworkers (USW) union members on strike.

We list a representative sample of them below. In all cases, we asked if we could use their names with their comments. Only one worker, Herlon Smith from Martin, Tenn., agreed. He is on strike, with some 2,400 other workers, at Goodyear's Union City, Tenn., tire manufacturing plant. His letter, with few edits, runs first.

"Sir, you are right, when a strike has been called, a union only sees in black and white, win or lose. I am a Goodyear employee and a union member for the past 36 years. I do not know if you have factory experience? I do not have sales or management experience, except for working under management and having to live in the work environment which they create.

"I started with Goodyear as 'URW' (United Rubber Workers), and now we are 'USW.' The URW, right or wrong, fought everything and a strike was their main answer. Things changed with the USW; they tried to be a partner to Goodyear. The USW has done long-range studies and reports of almost every thing about Goodyear. The USW has studied Goodyear's debt load and debt structure, and has made positive suggestions on debt reduction. Major New York banks holding Goodyear debt have made similar suggestions.

"The union has studied Goodyear's medical cost, and has compared systems used in different plants and systems used outside Goodyear. The union has been out in front in finding ways to cut Goodyear's medical cost. The union – USW -- that I see on Goodyear's plant floor is working every day for safety, trying to save life and limb and lower medical compensation cost. The union that I see on the plant floor is trying to improve quality and improve production. This new type of union knows more about the operations of Goodyear than Goodyear does, and that is the problem!

"Do your readers remember Stanley Gault? In six years, he made Goodyear number one, the best at everything in the rubber industry -- the best cash flow, the highest profits of any tire maker then or now. Gault has retired; the new management team has dismantled all the principles that Gault operated by. The new management team has replaced and pushed out any management voices that disagreed and who wanted to continue Gault's policies. Have you ever heard 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it!'? Well, this new management completely re-did the manufacturing structure inside the Goodyear plants after Gault retired, and everything has crashed and burned and landed upside down in the side ditch (since) they took over!

"Workload went up, hourly compensation went down. Days off were changed. Parents found themselves forced to work Sunday's and holidays, with their children home without them. Morale hit an all-time low. And this also includes lower management, for now they make less than us. Their wages have been cut. Their benefits have been cut. Goodyear has even cut their pension in half. And now retired supervisors are working through a temp agency doing their old job at one-half their old pay, working for no benefits and their pension frozen. Any extra years worked at Goodyear add nothing to your pension.

"This is what Goodyear has done to their own management. They were first! I or we are next. The new Goodyear management has refused to listen to proven Goodyear corporate leaders and has cast them aside. The new Goodyear management has refused to listen to proven financial leaders on Wall Street and at major New York banks. And now Goodyear finds itself forced to borrow overseas capital at inflated interest rates. The new Goodyear management has cast aside all the knowledge and experience of its lower and middle managers in favor of the lowest cost and no-experience temp workers.

"And lastly, Goodyear's new management wants all of its hourly workers to be flexible enough to give up one-half their pay, most of their benefits, and most of their pension. And the most that Goodyear will promise is to try to keep a few of these flexible workers here in America, as Goodyear proceeds with its plans to relocate overseas.

"Stanley Gault once made a taped announcement to all Goodyear employees – management and union. Mr. Gault said, 'The most valuable asset that any company can have is a skilled, dedicated and loyal work force. Without this, no company can hope to succeed and prosper into the future.' He went on to thank each and every one of us for our team effort, from the machine cleaner to the (president). Goodyear's success had been a team, not an individual, effort! The team is dead. Outsiders may see all this as simply a labor dispute, but the people on the floor see this as life and death.

"This company, 'Goodyear,' is dying. It is rotten at the top. The people at the top are unwilling or unable to run Goodyear as a profitable American company. We must force a change. We must force them out if this company has any hope of surviving in the future. If it has no future, then we who have devoted our entire lives to it will have no future either! Thank you for your time." Herlon Smith, Martin, Tenn.

* "Dear Sir, I just finished reading your editorial on the mindset of the leadership of the United Steelworkers regarding the current strike with Goodyear. I feel that your (magazine) has been reporting the details of the strike in a fair manner, but what the company wants to do the workforce -- that's us, the people actually making the tires -- is abominable. Somehow, it's not big news that the guys at the top pull in multimillion dollar salaries and bonuses while expecting the people working the floor jobs to happily accept the slashing of wages and benefits. THIS is what Goodyear execs call job stability and being competitive?

"I may work in a factory, but I'm not so dumb to think that's in my best interest. We as a company need to focus on reinvesting in our American workforce first if we are to survive. I just turned 38 years old, and I have no faith in the leadership of this company to see to it that we're still in business when it's my time to retire. The union isn't perfect by far, but at least I know that they're thinking of my best interest."

* "I can see why the union officials are not respectful of you. You have no clue as to what is going on. Just from your take on the situation, anyone can see you haven't even glanced at the union workers' side of the story. When you have 15,000 workers on picket duty, it is hard to get them all to be non-violent. But most are peaceful.

"If we are rude to your one-sided posting of Goodyear's position, which is actually to take our jobs to communist China, and to dump its obligation to its retirees, it is because we can't afford to be wrong. It is our livelihood. We have spent a lifetime learning about the greed and corruption of Goodyear's management the hard way, where as you seem to be looking at them through anti-union rose-colored glasses."

* "Your (editorial) is upsetting to me, as I'm sure to all USW union members. To base your total opinion on one unfortunate phone call, in itself, is narrow minded. We are standing up for all Americans. We have taken a stand where others have just decided to take what they're offered. For this we need to be commended, not criticized.

"For years our members have made concessions, pay cuts, benefit increases. We have done so without complaints, and have worked harder to make Goodyear a more profitable company. We have watched as not only Goodyear, but other factories, and businesses, have gone overseas with all the profits our years of hard work have given them.

"Goodyear now wishes to close yet another factory, and also wants to simply dismiss their promise to current and future retirees. We cannot, and will not allow this. We ARE looking at the bigger picture, and know that no good can come from fewer American jobs. So please take care in what you publicly proclaim. Your job may be next, on the list of foreign want ads."

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