Today, the labor-management cooperative effort at the Gadsden Goodyear plant is forging a strong partnership, promising significant business cost reductions for the company and job security for union members.
So successful is the “Lead Hand Concept,” (L.H.C.) in Gadsden that since its inception in late 1999, it has been cited as a model for other Goodyear plants to follow, and in 2003 was mandated in the Goodyear Union Master Contract.
The L.H.C. relies on a union member to perform specified tasks, and direct the work of his or her working cell – a group from 10 to 23 workers. The leader is paid a 10 percent bonus above regular wages for performing duties that range from preplanning work, to coordinating labor moves, to ordering supplies and scheduling vacations and overtime. This program has resulted in the reduction of some 80 floor-level management positions since the program began. USWA Local 12 President Larry Thrasher says, “The people on the floor are happy, motivated and productive.”
As of November 2004, the plant employs 1,265 union members and 96 management workers while producing 24,000 tires per day, 7 days per week. Goodyear’s Assurance premium tire is among its products.
Current successes are a far cry from the bleak outlook in 1998 and 1999 when the plant’s existence was in jeopardy. An impending catastrophe was averted due to the foresight of Mickey Williams, Local 12 president at the time, and a related but unforeseen event.
In 1998, the plant was producing a mixed ticket (order) of original equipment and replacement radial passenger and radial light truck tires at a capacity of 15,000 tires per day. Due to market fluctuations, orders were frequently adjusted resulting in layoffs. Global competition was causing a roller coaster effect and by mid-1999, Gadsden employment was down to 586.
It was at this time that Mickey Williams wrote a passionate letter to Bill Sharp, Goodyear’s vice president of North American Tire Manufacturing, explaining that given a chance, Gadsden can get the job done. There was no immediate response. To the contrary, in early September 1999 Goodyear issued a closure of tire products order, which relegated the plant to a rubber mix center that would supply other Goodyear production plants. As of December 1999, the plant was to employ 186 union workers.
During the last week in September 1999, an urgent call came for Mickey Williams, who was in meetings in Florida, from Bill Sharp and John Orr (Goodyear’s North America Tire Production director), seeking a meeting. The two met with Williams in Florida to determine if the union was willing to change work rules and run the plant without floor-level management supervision in order to maintain tire production past December 1999.
Within days a Gadsden Plant Staffing Agreement was worked out, and was ratified by members of Local 12 in mid-October 1999. The Firestone tire recall hit and as Larry Thrasher remembers, “Lucky for us, we had the molds, workforce, and idle equipment to produce the replacement market needs.”
Thrasher, in recalling the events leading up to a much stronger and viable Gadsden Goodyear plant, says, “Mickey Williams outlined what the company needed to do to make this plant more competitive. And the company told us what we needed to undertake in order for the company to be more competitive in a global market.” He added, “The Gadsden team (leaders of labor and management) identify what problems we have and the best ways to solve them, using the people on the floor who are actually involved.”
Thrasher receives daily production reports together with all other important data pertaining to quality and cost. He says, “Gadsden is building the Assurance tire because of the production and dedication of the people on the production floor. That entails productivity, quality and per unit cost – you need all three to be successful.”
Local 12, according to Thrasher, is a partner in Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company’s success. “The company must survive in order for us to survive. We help when ever and where ever we can, including going to Montgomery to speak about our program and seek training grants for present and new workers.”
Goodyear’s Chairman visits Gadsden plant
Goodyear Chairman Bob Keegan came to Gadsden in October 2004 to view progress. He was not disappointed. And a first: He was invited to the USW Local 12 union hall, and he said this was the first time he had been invited and set foot in one.
Keegan’s view of the Gadsden plant following a visit with workers on the production floor was reflected in remarks to union and management leaders. “It’s clear… why we’re seeing so much progress. You’ve got a leadership team with a lot of energy. My reaction is that this team can get the job done.”
Larry Thrasher, president of USWA Local 12 says, “We are partners with the corporation and as such we look for open communications and helping where we can.”
He related when Keegan and Chris Clark, senior vice president of global sourcing, met with the Gadsden team, it was an opportunity to go over everything that had been done and the team’s hopes for the future.
Thrasher said the team offered several options to Keegan and Clark to take with them. He said the Gadsden team (labor and management leadership) makes presentations in Akron to try to enhance the Gadsden plant. “We sell the Gadsden plant to corporate officials,” Thrasher said. “We have ideas on how to make this plant better, and so we’re looking for capital investment dollars to enlarge and improve this plant to make it more competitive. We have room for expansion.”
Gadsden chosen to make another new product
January 31, 2005
The productivity of the Gadsden plant’s workforce, the quality of their products and their continuing emphasis on cost reduction resulted in Goodyear’s announcement to add another new product line to the Gadsden plant. The Wrangler, featuring SilentArmor Technology, has revolutionary technological designs that provide a high-comfort, low-noise ride for drivers of pick-up trucks and SUVs.
Company officials said Gadsden would be responsible for manufacturing eight sizes of the new product. “This is one of the most innovative new products on the market and is sure to revolutionize the tire industry,” said Chris Koscho, plant manager. “It uses breakthrough technology that is second to none.”
Larry Thrasher, president of Local 12 of the United Steelworkers of America which represents Goodyear’s workers, said those “doing the grunt work on the floor” have worked hard and that commitment is paying off with the opportunity to produce a new tire.
“It’s been a position of Gadsden, of our employees, that we are the best work force Goodyear has got in North America,” Thrasher said, explaining the company recognizes the quality of the work force locally because the Gadsden plant has been given the opportunity to produce more than one new tire in the company’s growing product line.
The new SilentArmor technology tire line marks the second consecutive year the Gadsden plant has been selected by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company to be part of a new product launch. In 2004, the Gadsden plant celebrated its 75th anniversary and began producing Goodyear’s top product line, the Assurance tire with ComforTred Technology. Those tires are designed to provide a luxurious ride.