CHICAGO (Reuters) -- Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., after marathon bargaining sessions with the United Steelworkers of America, on Wednesday said it reached a tentative labor contract covering 19,000 unionized workers at 14 U.S. plants.
The company did not specify whether the three-year contract involves plant closings or job cuts, which the union had sought to prevent.
But Goodyear spokesman Chuck Sinclair said the settlement, which is subject to a vote by the union's rank-and-file members, will enable the loss-making company to begin to restore profits.
"We've said all along that we need the financial flexibility and capability to start to turn the company around. The agreement provides that," Sinclair told Reuters.
Sinclair declined to comment on rumors in Internet chat rooms and reported by a local TV station that the company plans to close a plant in Huntsville, Ala., where it manufactures Dunlop brand tires.
Union officials also declined to comment on details of the labor agreement or the rumored closing of the Huntsville plant, which employs about 1,100 Steelworkers members.
Goodyear, of Akron, Ohio, which has racked up $1.3 billion in losses over the past two years, and the Steelworkers union had been deadlocked for five months over issues involving job security, health benefits and how the company should restructure.
The union, in a separate news release, said its leaders would hold informational meetings at each plant before ratification votes are held.
The contract covers plants in Ohio, Alabama, New York, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
Previous contracts expired April 19 at plants that make Goodyear and Dunlop tires and ended July 5 at those that make Kelly-Springfield tires but had been extended on a day-to-day basis.
Last week, Goodyear had threatened to move ahead with unilateral cost cuts if an agreement with the union was not reached by Friday. But company and union negotiators talked past the deadline.
Goodyear executives in April told investors the company planned to cut about $1 billion to $1.5 billion in costs by 2005 to reduce excess manufacturing capacity and return to profitability.
The company has already eliminated its dividend, stopped matching 401(k) retirement contributions, refinanced loans and put its chemicals unit up for sale.