Union tiremakers at Bridgestone/Firestone's
Decatur, Ill., factory are defending themselves and replacement
workers against charges that they made many of the 6.5 million
tires being recalled for safety reasons.
Leaders of the United Steelworkers Local 713, which represents
the Decatur workers, are demanding proof that a large share of the
troubled tires can be traced to the Decatur facility.
On Monday they called on Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Ford
Motor Co. to release all the data and evidence they have gathered
to the public.
"I'd like to see more documentation,'' said union vice
president Randy Gordon.
Most of the 15-inch Wilderness, ATX and ATX II tires recalled
last week were on Ford sport utility vehicles and light trucks. The
automaker said most of those tires were made in Decatur from 1994
to 1996, some during a bitter strike when Bridgestone/Firestone
hired replacement workers.
Joe Roundtree, a former plant employee who has offered testimony
in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal Florida crash, said quality
control suffered because the strike cost the plant experienced
workers. Many replacement workers stayed while seasoned union
members retired or quit, he said.
Roundtree, who worked at the plant for 30 years before retiring
in 1996, has testified that he witnessed shoddy work and shortfalls
in the inspection process. He stopped putting Firestone tires on
his family's cars in 1994 because of that.
"No, I wasn't surprised by the recall,'' said Roundtree, one of
several former workers to testify about problems at the Decatur
plant in lawsuits. "I had a good feeling it had to happen because
you have all these new people in there. They were inexperienced and
the work ethic wasn't there.''
Union workers were quick to discount Roundtree's allegations
about shoddy work, and they were unwilling to lay blame on the
workers who crossed the picket lines during the 10-month strike in
"I'd just be speculating, and I don't want to do that,'' Gordon
said. "We were on the street and they had new people in there.''
Other union workers also declined opportunities to criticize the
replacement workers, saying they did not want to make allegations
Bridgestone/Firestone said Monday there is no evidence the
strike affected tire quality. The company and Gordon noted that
Ford and other automakers have honored the plant with quality
awards in years past.
Larry Werve, an inspector at the plant, said he'll remain
skeptical until he sees all information gathered by Ford,
Bridgestone/Firestone and the government.
"Let us defend ourselves,'' Werve said. "We're piecing it
together from what the media reports. We run a hundred different
sizes and types of tires. If we had some problem at this plant, it
would have to show up in all the tires and brands.''