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Steelworkers nearly finished voting on contract at Goodyear plants

United Steelworkers members at Goodyear Tire & Rubber plants have nearly finished voting on a tentative deal that would keep a Town of Tonawanda plant open but provides for buyouts in the event the factory stops making truck tires.

The agreement covers 10,300 workers at seven U.S. plants, including Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America on Sheridan Drive. Voting is complete at most of the sites and is expected to wrap up today.

The contract must be approved by a majority of the membership as well as a majority of the seven plants in order to pass. Published reports say four of the plants have approved the deal: Tonawanda; Union City, Tenn.; Topeka, Kan.; and Akron, Ohio. The local in Danville, Va., announced that its members had rejected it. The two other locals are voting this week.

Overall results are expected to be announced Saturday. Union leaders have described the tentative deal as "a good deal in tough times." The previous contract was extended twice during negotiations before a deal was reached in late August.

A representative at Steelworkers Local 135 at the Tonawanda plant declined to comment on the outcome of the local vote since the national results are not yet in. But a national Steelworkers spokesman previously said the deal passed here.

The proposed agreement would protect six of the seven plants, including Tonawanda, from closure for the next four years, the Steelworkers said. The Tennessee facility would be unprotected, based on an agreement the two sides reached before the talks.

Under one provision of the tentative deal, if Goodyear decides to no longer make truck tires at the Tonawanda site, 200 "separation allowance buyouts" would be made available to employees there, according to the union.

The buyouts are calculated at $2,000 per year of service, with a maximum payout of $50,000, the union said.

The Sheridan Drive plant has less than 900 hourly workers and makes tires for commercial trucks, passenger cars and motorcycles. It makes an average of 2,000 truck tires per day, the smallest output of the three tire categories.

According to Goodyear's Web site, two other Goodyear plants also make commercial truck tires.

An additional 400 separation buyouts have been negotiated for employees at all other Goodyear locations "in the event of a further downturn in the market," the union said.

Goodyear would be required to make a minimum capital investment of $600 million in its facilities through the contract, according to the union.

"This not only means job security for our members but also a continuing commitment to the communities that support these facilities," said Tim Conway, United Steelworkers International vice president, in a statement. Including salaried workers, Goodyear Dunlop's local operations employ about 1,000 people in Tonawanda and at offices in Amherst.

Under the tentative contract, minimum staffing levels at the Goodyear plants would be maintained, and production could not be shifted from the plants to any facility not represented by the Steelworkers, the union said.

The fate of the tentative deal is being determined in a somewhat complex manner.

If the local at a plant votes in favor of the contract, then all of the dues-paying union members at that site are counted as "yes" votes. For example, if a local has 1,000 members, all 1,000 of them are counted as "yes" votes if the local approves the deal, regardless of how many workers actually cast ballots or voted in favor of it.

Similarly, all the union members at the Danville, Va., site are counted as "no" votes, since that local rejected the contract.

A majority of the seven locals has already approved the deal, which meets one of the two requirements for the contract to pass. A majority of the roughly 10,300 represented workers must also approve it, and the tally thus far is unclear.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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