Union Members Picket Goodyear Tire Stores

Union members battling Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. took their picket lines to about 150 tire retailers in the U.S. and Canada on Saturday, making their case directly to consumers for health care and retirement benefits.

In Lincoln, about 50 United Steelworkers members protested at two Goodyear retailers, decrying the company's use of replacement workers during the 2-month strike.

"We know what it takes to build tires, and unskilled workers just can't do it," said Gary Schaefer, 54, vice president of the United Steelworkers Local 286 in Lincoln. "We do not want the general public riding their lives on temporary workers."

Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said the protests do not affect plans to return to the bargaining table, scheduled to resume Monday in Pittsburgh for the first time since meetings broke off Nov. 17.

"Our goals in the negotiations remains the same, and that is to reach a fair agreement that enables us to be competitive and win with our customers," he said.

The company's temporary workers are qualified and received the same training as all new employees, Markey said. "Goodyear will never compromise quality," he said.

About 15,000 workers are on strike at 12 U.S. and four Canadian plants, including union members on layoff, sick leave or other time off. Goodyear workers went on strike Oct. 5 after talks broke down on a new contract.

Since the strike began, Goodyear has been making tires at some of its North American plants with nonunion and temporary workers as well as some managers and relying on production at its international plants to help supply North American customers.

In suburban Pittsburgh, more than 80 people handed out fliers and urged holiday shoppers driving past a Goodyear service center to honk in support of employees.

"I'd say (we're getting) a lot of support, and that's what we're doing: educating the public on what the dispute is about," said John Sellers, a retired Steelworkers official.

Leo Gerard, USW international president, said the protests were intended to inform consumers about what the union believes is unfair treatment by Goodyear, including plans to slash health care and retirement benefits.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the labor group's decision to join forces with the USW for the protests was a statement by working people to Goodyear and other companies.

"We're going to hold the line for the nation's middle class. Working people everywhere have been pushed to the brink by giant multinational conglomerates like Goodyear," Sweeney said. "We're going to push back."

In Utah, which has no Goodyear manufacturing plants, about two dozen people waived signs along a busy thoroughfare and chanted, "Goodyear, broken promises don't fly."

"It's a solidarity meeting," said activist Archie Archuleta, a retired teacher and union member. "Wherever union workers are on strike we try to support them."

Goodyear has said it intends to close its Tyler, Texas, tire plant by next year because the company is ending production of low-profit private-label tires. The union wants all plants protected from closing. The USW also strongly objected to a company proposal for creating a retirees' health care trust, which the union argues shortchanges retirees.

Goodyear executives have said they are seeking a contract that will help the company be globally competitive. The company has said its offer protects wages, proposes upgrades to union plants and offers a plan to provide health care coverage for retirees.