Steelworkers, Bridgestone recess contract talks

CHICAGO -- Bridgestone Corp. and the United Steelworkers have recessed talks over a new contract to replace a North American pact expiring this weekend, but no walkout is planned, a union spokesman said on Thursday.

Talks halted late Wednesday without a formal extension to the contract between the union and the Tokyo-based company's North American units. They are expected to continue after a pattern agreement is reached, USW spokesman Wayne Ranick said.

Without an agreed extension, the union could call a strike or the company could potentially lock out workers without notice, but most current terms will be extended except those for job security in some areas, the union and company said.

Contracts covering about 24,000 United Steelworkers members who work at Bridgestone, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. , and Michelin plants in North America expire at the end of the day Saturday.

The steelworkers union has selected Michelin's BFGoodrich unit as its target company for negotiating a master agreement that it uses as a template in talks with the other companies. Those talks are ongoing.

In a statement, the union's bargaining committee for the Bridgestone talks said it was apparent the company would not seriously address union proposals until a pattern agreement is reached and reviewed.

"We are not calling for a strike at this point," the committee said. "We urge all members to continue to report to work."

Bridgestone said it could not guarantee plant protection provisions, the main sticking point in the sides adopting a formal day-to-day extension, because it would be incompatible with its focus on North American production.

"Decisions about plant staffing, production and other items must be based on market conditions and should not be guaranteed by contract, nor by contract extensions," the company said.

Bridgestone has announced plans to close its Oklahoma City plant by the end of 2006 due to substantial losses, cutting about 1,400 workers. The steelworkers represent about 6,000 Bridgestone workers at eight U.S. plants.

Goodyear and the steelworkers on Tuesday agreed to extend their current contract beyond the deadline while talks on the template continue. Either side can terminate the day-to-day extension on three days notice.

The steelworkers seek pattern agreements to compel tire makers to compete in areas other than labor costs, but all the major tire companies plan cuts in North America in response to low-priced import tires and escalating raw materials prices.

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