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Union votes to accept contract; Goodyear-Dunlop strike ends

Steelworkers in the United States voted Thursday to end their 12-week strike against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. -- including its plant in the Town of Tonawanda -- giving thumbs-up to a deal that guards benefits for retirees while it cuts wages for new workers.

"Some guys are grumbling . . . [but] you've got to live to fight another day," said Dave Maciuba of Lancaster. The strike was the longest in his 30-year career at the plant on Sheridan Drive.

Local workers voted, 729-198, to accept the deal, union officials said. Nationwide results were incomplete Thursday night, but officials said that all 12 striking U.S. plants approved the three-year contract.

The "yes" vote means about 1,100 Steelworkers will return to their jobs next week at Goodyear-Dunlop in the Town of Tonawanda. Throughout the company, 14,000 workers had joined the strike at 16 plants around the United States and Canada.

Over 900 members of United Steelworkers Local 135 turned out to vote Thursday at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. Men slapped the backs of friends they hadn't seen much for 84 days and shared stories about the Christmas they spent under a cloud.

"I'm for going back to work," said Kevin Varney of Kenmore, who makes motorcycle tires. Like his co-workers, Varney faced losing health coverage for his family of five if the strike continued past Jan. 3.

The three-year deal protects Tonawanda and 10 other U.S. plants from shutdown, and calls for Goodyear to invest $550 million in its U.S. factories.

Goodyear will also pay $1 billion into a fund for retiree health benefits, a key goal of the union, which had sought a $1.3 billion increase.

But the upbeat mood at the voting site was tempered by disappointment at some of the contract's terms. Incoming workers will earn $13 an hour, compared with full union rates of $20 to $24 an hour, workers said. And the new hires must wait three years for full health benefits.

"I feel bad for the guys that are coming in," Charles Gallagher of Tonawanda said. "What will they think about us when it's time for me to retire?"

But he was glad to see an end to picketing at the plant, saying that the four hours a week he spent marching in front of the gate seemed much longer. "Looking in from the outside is a horrible feeling," Gallagher said.

Dave Sullivan of West Seneca said he voted against the deal because he fears it will divide the union and lead to a purge of higher-paid workers.

"It's supposed to be all of us, together," he said of the union.

The strike began Oct. 5, after the previous contract had expired July 22. The Steelworkers announced a tentative agreement had been reached last Friday. The news boosted Goodyear shares to a record high for the year, as Wall Street anticipated an end to the costly strike and lower costs under the new labor deal.

The contract gives Goodyear significant cost savings, the company said in announcing the tentative agreement last week.

The contract includes a bonus worth 24 hours of wages, workers said. The deal permits the closing of Goodyear's plant in Tyler, Texas, a defeat for the union.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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