BY TOM ALTER AND GARY BOYERS
NEW HAVEN, Indiana - Members of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 715 voted to accept a contract offer and return to work at the Michelin-owned Uniroyal Goodrich plant in nearby Woodburn in a vote here December 27. The vote ended a strike by 1,200 workers that began October 24.
While the contract was approved by a large majority of those voting, 806 - 95, most workers had mixed feelings about the settlement. Dave Wilkinson said, "I think we can do better, I think we got a contract that was take it or leave it," as he left the two-and-a-half hour meeting at New Haven High School. Local 715 member Thomas Schaper echoed these sentiments, saying, "What can you do? We just have to take it."
The bosses were forced to back down on one of the central issues in the strike, the company's demand to be able to unilaterally impose or change any work rule. Under the agreement the company must post any proposed rule change for 30 days. A union objection sends the issue to arbitration, and the change is put on hold, pending the arbitrator's ruling. Any new work rule implemented cannot be dropped or modified for 24 months.
On the other hand, the company won the right to make any job combinations it wants to. The union can grieve such combinations, but the job shifts will go into effect pending the grievance procedure. Management no longer will have to negotiate staffing levels for departments or work groups.
The Steelworkers pushed back Uniroyal proposals on discipline procedures and vacation scheduling, two contentious issues in the plant in the period leading up to the strike.
The company was able to establish a total break time of 70 minutes for workers on a 12-hour shift, a cut of 30 minutes for some people. The firing of Local 715 president Ray Wiseman will be left to a National Labor Relations Board hearing.
In early November Uniroyal announced that two production lines would be moved to other Michelin plants, eliminating 240 jobs in Woodburn.
They escalated their attack on December 6, when they said that the Indiana plant would be shut down if an agreement wasn't reached shortly.
Although the company had made the same threat in 1993 when the union was unsuccessfully resisting the imposition of 12- hour, rotating shifts, these threats had an effect on a layer of strikers Militant reporters spoke to.
With the contract agreement, the company said it would keep the production of T/A tires for full-size pick-ups - the bigger line supposedly scheduled to be moved - in Woodburn.
Local 715 vice president Joe Motycka told the Militant that with the recent retirement of 40 - 45 workers, the job loss from the plant would be about 30 - 35.
Many Local 715 members were disappointed that the union wasn't able to win back the 8-hour work shift. A few workers blamed the French ownership of Michelin for the antiunion attacks by the company.
One worker was quoted in the Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette saying "There's going to be a lot of us looking at every French person there wishing they had salt water running out their nose," meaning that Michelin management should cross the Atlantic and return to France.
Such expressions of American chauvinism were infrequent.
In a parallel vote with the three-year contract approval, Local 715 members voted to change their schedule so that workers change shifts every 16 weeks, rather than every four weeks.
Tom Alter is a member of United Food and Commercial Workers
Local 1149 in Perry, Iowa. Gary Boyers is a member of USWA
Local 1299 in River Rouge, Michigan.
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