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CNN Today

Bridgestone/Firestone Facing Labor Woes; Steelworkers Spokesman Discusses Union Demands

Aired August 31, 2000 - 1:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: New problems for Bridgestone/Firestone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it's turned up more deaths that may be linked to Firestone tires. The agency previously put the figure at 62. There's no word yet on the new number, but an announcement on that is expected later today.

Also today, Venezuela's consumer product agency accused Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Company of conspiring to cover up safety problems involving Firestone tires on vehicles sold in that country. Bridgestone/Firestone as promised to step up production of replacement tires, but now it's involved in a labor dispute that could shut down nine U.S. plants after tomorrow evening.

CNN's Mark Potter is working that story. Today, he's at company headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Lou, for the company, when it comes to problems, it seems it's a case of, when it rains it pours.

We're now here at a labor rally outside the company headquarters. This is a group of about 200 to 300 United Steelworkers. They work at a plant here near the corporate headquarters.

The company is now facing the prospect of a strike on top of all the other problems, including the investigations and the recall. That could happen at midnight Friday. And what is at issue here is a bargaining arrangement that has been under way here since March. They have not reached an agreement. And the union is now saying that if they do not reach an agreement on wage and other issues, working conditions, pension issues, that a strike is likely after midnight Friday.

Now, we're here with Larry Odum, who's a local union representative.

Larry, how far apart do you think you are and how likely is a strike?

LARRY ODUM, INTERNATIONAL STEELWORKERS UNION: Well, the message we got from our president, Gary Manning (ph), was, on Wednesday, there was a package on the table, and if that package was still there Friday at midnight, we'd be on strike by midnight. The specifics about that package I don't know what they are. It's our job just to come here and hold the demonstrations and erect this Camp Justice.

And we'll take a delegation inside. First thing we'll tell the company is, we're back. We were here back in 1996 and we're back today. And it's an uncommon thing, but we're going to erect that camp down there as the union soul. It's a piece of property we acquired: union souls for a purpose, union souls for a cause. And the purpose is to have this -- to get this company to stop breaking U.S. labor laws.

POTTER: The big question is, what impact will this have on the tire recall?

ODUM: Well, we don't -- our negotiations is separate from the recall. We don't know anything about the recall.

POTTER: But if the plants are shut down by a strike, will it affect the recall and the effort to get people new tires?

ODUM: It's not in anybody's effort to have a labor stoppage now. It's not a benefit to the workers, it's not a benefit to the company. We know that, but we've been negotiating since early March and, you know, it's just time to get off the dime, time to give us a contract we deserve.

POTTER: Is there any concern that this is the wrong time to have a strike given the national crisis that's under way here?

ODUM: Well, sure, there's concerns all the time. But we think that, in our opinion, that the company has to beef up production to help them and get in there and to resolve some problems and so help them with the recall, and because they anticipate it to last too long.

POTTER: Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

And, Lou, the company has also said that it respects the bargaining process and hopes that the issue can be resolved. The company issued a statement saying, "a strike will benefit no one. We are working hard to avoid any disruption in our plants."

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter in Nashville watching the Firestone story.

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