Goodyear Says It Will Keep Plants Open in Spite of Strike

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT), with 12,000 union employees on strike at 16 plants in the U.S. and Canada, will turn to managers, inventory and tires from overseas to try to keep its business going.

The United Steelworkers of America terminated a day-to-day contract extension Thursday and quickly set up picket lines. A company spokesman said talks would not resume until Saturday at the earliest.

Without giving details, Goodyear said its latest offer would protect jobs and pensions. The company said the union failed to agree to terms in contracts the union has with other tire makers, conditions the company claims are necessary for its survival.

The union, mindful of contract concessions it made three years ago, said the company's latest proposal would have included two plant closings and other concessions.

"We're in this for the long haul," striking Goodyear worker Eric Pirogowicz, 50, of Akron, said Friday morning as he rubbed his hands over a barrel fire at a picket site set up near Goodyear's headquarters.

Commuters honked horns in support of the strikers and a few people brought the striking workers breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and coffee. Some of the salaried workers going in and out of the headquarters shook hands with the workers or offered words of encouragement.

Union spokesman Wayne Ranick said Friday morning no new talks have been scheduled.

Goodyear will continue production at nonunion plants in Lawton, Okla., and Napanee, Ontario, and will use salaried workers at its union plants, spokesman Ed Markey said. The company also has imports and inventory to draw on, Markey said, declining to give specifics.

"We are working to minimize impact on our customers," chief Goodyear negotiator Jim Allen said.

Akron-based Goodyear ranks No. 3 in the world in tire sales, based on revenues, behind top-ranked Bridgestone and No. 2 Michelin, according to the trade publication Tire Business. The 108-year-old company had 2005 sales of $19.5 billion and more than 100 plants in 29 countries.

Saul Ludwig, a KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst, said a strike could cost Goodyear $2 million a day. The company could save $50 million a year by closing a U.S. plant, he said in a report to clients.

He said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that unless the strike was lengthy, consumers should not see tire prices affected by the walkout because of the large inventory of tires in the market.

Markey declined to comment on whether the company's offer involved plant closings.

A 77-year-old plant in Gadsden, Ala., and one in Tyler, Texas, weren't on the company's list of "protected" factories, meaning they could be closed, said Bren Riley, a vice president of Local 12 in Alabama.

Steve Huston, who has worked at the Topeka, Kan., plant for 36 years, said he understood what was at risk. "Nobody is glad to be on strike, but we're trying to hold onto what we have and they are trying to take more benefits and wages from us," he said.

Dan Colby, 38, who works at Goodyear's Tonawanda, N.Y., plant near Buffalo, said the strike would be a hardship on most employees, many of whom have families with small children. "We work hard and are deserving of what we get," he said.

The union said it represents 15,000 employees in Alabama, Kansas, Ohio, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and in Collingwood, Toronto and Owen Sound in Canada. By the company's count, the U.S. plants have about 12,600 employees represented by the Steelworkers.