The United Steelworkers announced Friday a tentative deal to end its strike at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a move that will send 15,000 workers back to their jobs -- including 1,100 in the Town of Tonawanda -- if members approve the deal next week.
"It's good news -- it's a little relief," said Kathy Kluczynski, vice president of Steelworkers Local 135 in Tonawanda.
Members will continue picketing the Goodyear-Dunlop plant on Sheridan Drive, however, at least until a ratification vote set for Thursday, she said.
"Until we see [the contract proposal], we just don't know," she said.
For hundreds of local families, the tentative agreement raises hopes for an end to the strike as the holiday weekend begins. Having gone more than two months without paychecks, Goodyear-Dunlop workers face expiration of their company-paid health coverage on Jan. 3.
Approval of the three-year contract would also mean an end to heavy overtime by supervisory workers, who set aside their regular tasks at Goodyear-Dunlop to try their hands at filling in for striking workers in the factory.
"Our goal was to reach a fair agreement" that continues Goodyear's commitment to customers, company spokesman Ed Markey said. "The tentative agreement does that."
Strikers could return to work around the first of the year if the agreement is approved.
The tentative deal isn't welcome news for replacement workers, however, who have been filling the shoes of strikers. Union estimates put the number of temporary replacements at the Tonawanda plant at 775. The company wouldn't confirm the number. The replacements earn about two-thirds of the average union wage of about $20 an hour, according to union sources.
Some 15,000 union workers walked out at 16 Goodyear plants in the United States and Canada on Oct. 5 after contract talks stalled.
Goodyear said the tentative deal announced Friday would cut labor costs "substantially" with "market based" wage and benefit rates for new hires and changes in incentives.
The tentative deal includes a $1 billion company contribution to a fund that will pay medical and prescription drug benefits for retirees, a major objective of the union.
"Our bargaining committee was able to drive the proverbial wolf away from the door for tens of thousands of retirees," Steelworkers vice president Thomas Conway said in a statement.
The deal also calls for Goodyear to triple its investment in unionized plants to at least $550 million over the three-year term, the union said.
But the company will still close its money-losing plant in Tyler, Texas, a blow to the union, which had sought to save the plant's 1,000 union jobs.
Goodyear will make the small tires produced at Tyler at steelworker plants in the United States if the company remains in that market, the union said.
"The company simply won't be able to outsource that work or service this market segment with imports from China or anywhere other than a USW facility," Conway's statement said.
The Steelworkers union has used the walkout to draw a line against the outsourcing or offshoring of unionized work. The 850,000-member union represents about 70,000 workers in the tire, rubber and plastics industries.
In Tonawanda, officials of the local Steelworkers unit plan to distribute materials about the contract proposal to members early next week, Kluczynski said. The location for the ratification vote on Thursday hasn't been set, she said.
The previous three-year agreement expired July 22. The Tonawanda plant, bought by Goodyear in 1999, makes tires for motorcycles, trucks and all-terrain vehicles as well as passenger cars. The plant's customers, which include Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, continue to rely on Goodyear-Dunlop tires, Markey said.
The tentative deal comes after Steelworkers had escalated pressure by launching a campaign with the AFL-CIO aimed at bruising the company's image.