After 12 weeks of marching in picket lines and going without paychecks, Steelworkers at Goodyear-Dunlop in the Town of Tonawanda -- and 11 other tire plants across the U.S. -- returned to work Tuesday, the first day of their new labor contract.
The whistle for the first shift at 7 a.m. Tuesday also marked the end of production work for scores of supervisors and managers who took strikers' places in the Sheridan Drive factory.
"They (managers) said they had some sore arms -- they were glad to see us back," said Kathy Kluczynski, vice president of Steelworkers Local 135 in the Town of Tonawanda. The local represents 1,100 production workers at Goodyear-Dunlop.
After confronting managers at the picket line for weeks, resuming work alongside them "is going well," she said, "but the week's not over yet."
Union workers were glad to return to their jobs and have a paycheck to look forward to next week, Kluczynski said. Non-union replacement workers who had been hired on a temporary basis punched out for the last time on Saturday, she said.
Steelworkers on Friday approved a three-year agreement covering 14,000 employees that includes plans to close a Texas tire factory and creates a $1 billion health care fund for retirees. The contract was approved by all 12 locals and by the overall membership by a 2-to-1 margin. Workers in Tonawanda approved the deal by nearly 4 to 1.
The company said the pact will help reduce its costs by $610 million over three years and $300 million a year thereafter.
"What we expect is that both Goodyear and its workers now get back to being one team," company spokesman Ed Markey said. "The focus is on serving the customer and beating the competition."
Some members of the United Steelworkers were optimistic about rebuilding their relationship with company management.
Al Tomasello, a nine-year employee at Tonawanda, said he believed both sides lost in the labor dispute and looked forward to returning.
"I'm excited. I can't wait to get back to work," Tomasello said. "We were happy the way the company finally came around and did give us the things we were looking for."
Goodyear ultimately agreed to put $1 billion into a health care fund for retired union workers' medical benefits, higher than the company's previous $660 million offer but less than the union's call for roughly double that amount.