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Monday, December 4th, 2006

Former union leader urges negotiators to resume talks

By Janie Southard
United Steelworkers' top brass need to get back to negotiations with Goodyear and get out of the political tangle among themselves, according to a former president of the local union in St. Marys.
"It saddens me that so many could get hurt in this stalled-out process. I believe negotiation has to be more than finger pointing and name calling. (The union negotiators) need to get back to the table, fix the problem and get us back to work," said Mercer County native John Rauh, who, with 43-plus years on the job, is the most senior employee at the local plant.
For more than 15 of those years, he served as an officer, including president and vice president, with the United Steelworkers Local 200 in St. Marys. In 1997, he helped to bring about the first six-year union/Goodyear contract, which he calls "one of the most successful contracts in the history of the company" for both sides.
Currently neither side is talking and no new talks have been set. The Steelworkers, who have been without a contract since July and went on strike in October, left the second round of talks two weeks ago saying they'll be back when Goodyear is ready to make more concessions. Sticking points are many and varied - wages, retirement benefits, insurance, etc.
However, Rauh said in his opinion and experience, Goodyear's offer is "far richer than any in the country in terms of sick pay, vacations, early retirement and so on."
Local union officials as well as some picketers have said the strike has the potential for a long stretch. As well, staunch strikers say they're prepared to go the distance.
But, it seems not all can or want to do without a paycheck long term. Many workers who are eligible for retirement have begun the process to leave Goodyear; others are crossing the line.
Rauh told The Daily Standard last week he wasn't surprised when he learned (from his own sources) as many as 150 strikers had gone back to work nationwide including one back on the job in St. Marys.
"I can't fault them. If the union refuses to at least bring the company's offer back to the membership for a vote, I don't know that there's much choice but to go back to work," said Rauh, who as of today has not gone back to work.
A few weeks ago Goodyear posted its contract offer on the Internet, a move that rankled union officials. More recently the company sent letters to each union member with an invitation to come back to work, The letter said, in part, that all benefits and salary would be restored if the employee comes back to work within 90 days of the strike, which began Oct. 5.
Rauh said he knows a lot of strikers are "thinking about going back in." There's no money being made on the picket line. Strikers receive food and gasoline vouchers from the USW Strike fund.
"I have never, in all my years with Goodyear, seen the company send out individual letters trying to explain their offer and asking people to come back to work. It makes me believe there's serious frustration with the process on the part of the company," he said.
The former local president said organized labor certainly needs to fight, but needs to pick the right fight. "I think this standoff with Goodyear has the potential to turn into a real tragedy for everyone," Rauh said.
For one thing, he pointed out, Goodyear's engineering division has been for sale for almost a year. At the USW rally a few weeks ago in St. Marys, union officials said there have been a number of prospective buyers touring the local plant among others in the engineering division.
"We all know they will eventually sell this division. If they sell while we're still on strike, the new buyer is free to purchase without the existing labor force in place. That's a loss of a lot of jobs," Rauh said.
He summed up his philosophy in homespun terms: "When all is said and done, it's all about slicing the pie, and it doesn't really matter how you slice it. When the pie shrinks, so does your slice."
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