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Exclusive www.moderntiredealer.com interview with: USW officer Craig Hemsley

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As a union officer for 37 years, Craig Hemsley has seen it all during contract talks in the past. Calm negotiations. Acrimonious negotiations. Short strikes. Long strikes.

Now he is staff representative for Local 2, District 1 in Akron. In the contract talks with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., he represents the Goodyear Technical Center union workers, who also manufacture race tires for NASCAR.

Although a retiree, he still pays union dues.

Four weeks into the United Steelworkers' strike against Goodyear, Hemsley says he doesn't have a feel for how long it will last. "(The) decision to add replacement workers just aggravates the seriousness of the strike."

In an exclusive interview with www.moderntiredealer.com, Hemsley tried to put the strike in context.

He says the union is striking over three major issues: health care -- particularly the amount the workers are expected to pay -- job security and a reduction in wages for close to 35% of the workforce.

"If it was a single issue, it would probably be easier to address, but it's multiple issues." The job security issues involve the 16 North American plants under the Master Contract. Hemsley says Goodyear is proposing to shut down the Tyler, Texas, and Gadsden, Ala., plants. "What we want to know is how to keep them competitive vs. closing them down."

Hemsley began his tire industry career as a skilled machine repairman with Goodyear in 1965. As a worker, he struck for 144 days in 1976 when negotiations between Goodyear and the other tire manufacturers located in Akron at the time broke down. There was also a two-week strike of Goodyear in 1997.

"This is absolutely, unequivocally, the most peaceful strike in Goodyear history," he says. The union has not harassed non-union workers or management going into or leaving the building.

"We are running a positive campaign to get an equitable contract that we believe we deserve. We are not alienating the company."

One of the USW's ultimate goals transcends the Goodyear contract, according to Hemsley. "We're trying to save the North American tire industry." He is concerned about U.S. trade agreements with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA) and Central America (CAFTA), and giving Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status with Asian countries, including China.

Hemsley also oversees Bridgestone Firestone Akron Local 7. He says the union is "awaiting a Goodyear settlement" before it tackles serious negotiations with Bridgestone Corp.'s domestic subsidiary. (To date, no new talks have been scheduled between Goodyear and the union.)

The USW is using its pact with Michelin North America Inc., which covers three BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing plants, as the pattern in bargaining with Goodyear and Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC. "The pattern today is not what it was 20-25 years ago," he says. "They (union leaders) were pretty rigid then. Now, I think they use the pattern agreement as a blueprint from which to work."

Bottom line, Goodyear is making money, and the union workers should share in the company's success after making concessions three years ago, according to Hemsley.

In the meantime, striking workers now are eligible to receive money from the union strike fund "based on need and necessities." The Strike Assistance Committee decides who gets what. "We are going to take care of our people," he says.

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