Topeka Union officials said Friday some of its striking members are willing to cross the picket line at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant to build Humvee tires for the military, but only if the company pulls its temporary workers first.
Robert Tripp, United Steelworkers Local 307 president, said he has offered to return 200 workers to the Topeka assembly line if Goodyear removes the 200 temporary workers it has in place. Tripp said the issue is one of safety of his members who are being asked to work alongside unskilled workers.
"I thought it was a fair offer," Tripp said. "I'm open, the union's open to sending back qualified workers to support the needs of our troops overseas."
Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey declined to discuss the union's demand to replace the temporary workers, but said the door is open for striking workers to return: "If anybody wants to come back to work, they can do so at any time." As for the temporary workers, Markey said, "I don't have an answer for that."
Meanwhile, the Akron, Ohio-based company and union agreed to resume contract talks starting Monday in Pittsburgh. Negotiations had been on hold since the most recent talks broke off Nov. 17 after a four-day resumption.
The union and the world's third-largest tiremaker have disagreed over health care proposals for retirees and plans to close a Tyler, Texas, tire factory.
About 12,000 Goodyear workers in the United States and Canada, including about 1,400 in Topeka, went on strike Oct. 5.
The company's Topeka facility is its only plant producing Humvee tires and is accustomed to working around the clock with 1,600 employees. Tripp said even if the 200 workers did return to work, the union's picket lines would remain outside the plant.
It was announced in September that Goodyear received a $17.7 million, one-year contract to make Humvee tires for the military. Markey said the company doesn't disclose the number of tires produced under the contract.
The union workers could return within 24 hours and begin producing Humvee tires, Tripp said.
On Wednesday, the matter gained the attention of House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who wrote a letter to the union urging members to go back on the job.
"Production levels have been reduced by approximately 35 percent, creating a shortage within the military," Hunter wrote in a letter to Goodyear and the union.
But Markey said that is not the case.
"Production of Humvee tires are at near normal levels and will be back to 100 percent in the near future," Markey said, adding the company is using nonunion employees and temporary workers to make the tires.
Tripp said he didn't doubt that quality and production had slipped since the strike, noting that all of the quality assurance workers were union members on strike.
Markey said all tires in each plant undergo quality control inspections.