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15,000 Goodyear Workers on Nationwide Strike

by Chapin Gray |
October 24, 2006
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Picketers in a rainstorm
(Fight Back! News)

Gadsden, AL - Despite the heavy rains and the passing weeks, workers at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant here are holding the picket line, demanding job security and better health and insurance benefits. All 1250 workers at the Gadsden plant have been on strike since Oct. 5, leaving the plant idle and plant supervisors scrambling to make tires on their own. The United Steelworkers of America, who organized the strike, represents eleven other plants in America and two in Canada, a total of 15,000 workers, all of whom are participating in the strike.

Goodyear shut down a plant in Huntsville, Alabama in 2003 and recently revealed plans to shut down two more and move production overseas. Workers are fighting to keep the plant open, and to hold on to their health and insurance benefits, which are continually under attack, despite the fact that the company’s profit has increased in the past two years. Retirees draw less than $700 a month, yet pay $600 a month for insurance. “It’s not right, nothing’s right about it,” said Rickey Ramey, a tire builder with the plant for over 31 years, shaking his head, showing his hands crippled from years of hard work. “We accepted concessions, bailed the plant out in ’97, made them millions of dollars with our hands and our backs. Now they want to take it all away.”

The Goodyear plant in Gadsden has been operating since the 1930s and has a history of struggle; workers struck several times in the 1970s, for over four months in 1976 and again in 1997. The majority of citizens in Gadsden have either worked for or have family who has worked for Goodyear, and support the workers’ struggle. “The community is behind us 110 percent,” said Dennis Battles, president of the United Steelworkers Local 12. “Every time you look up, they are bringing food to the picket line, donating money. It really gets to you sometimes, makes you want to sit down and bawl.”

Battles is waiting for the call to restart negotiations. Until then, the workers plan on striking for as long as it takes, fully aware that without them, the Goodyear plant cannot operate. “Already, Goodyear’s credit report has been demoted from A to B; they’re paying $1.2 million of interest a day. I can see the bosses laughing, thinking, ‘Oh these peons are going to make us some money!’ But if the plant goes bankrupt, the CEO makes zero!” explained Ramey.

Rickey Williams, a maintenance mechanic, agrees that the benefit cuts are unacceptable, that compromise is no longer an option. “The CEO makes $7,700,000 and just got a $3 million bonus,” said Williams, soaked from picketing for hours in the rain. “We don’t want more concessions - the more we give them the more they want. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; they’re trying to get rid of the middle class. The past two years Goodyear has turned a profit, but they still want more. We have really got to stop that somewhere.”