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United Steelworkers, Bridgestone/Firestone Reach Labor Agreement

Aired September 4, 2000 - 2:05 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: More recall troubles for Bridgestone/Firestone. CNN has learned the company has agreed to a request by Venezuela to recall 62,000 Firestone tires made there believed to be linked to a series of accidents. Bridgestone/Firestone is in the midst of a major product recall here in the United States and faces several investigations. But there's some good news for the tire-maker: After laboring through marathon talks over the weekend, union workers at Firestone have a new contract agreement. The two sides reached a tentative deal very early this morning.

CNN's Mark Potter now joins us with a live update on all of this.

Mark, what's going on?

MARK POTTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Lou. We're at a backyard barbecue party in Murfeesboro, Tennessee. These are workers from Bridgestone/Firestone. They're union members, and they're celebrating two things: Labor Day and the Labor Day agreement, that tentative agreement you were talking about between Bridgestone/Firestone and the United Steelworkers of America.

A few moments ago, one of the members was standing up talking to the others about some of the details of the contract, and it seemed that everyone was pleased by what they were hearing.

What this means for Bridgestone/Firestone is that it doesn't have to deal with a strike anymore during the tire recall. That's presuming that this contract is ratified as expected.

We're talking with also here Scott Smith of local 1055 (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You're the chief steward, you've been dealing with this for months. How important is it to have reached now this tentative agreement and at this point in the company's history?

SCOTT SMITH, CHIEF UNION STEWARD: I think it's highly important. If they want to weather this recall, they need our trained, skilled work force in there to do it. And we're prepared to all get on the same page and get through this together.

POTTER: Now, do you have fear that because of all the problems that this company faces, that while you might have won this time and the workers are happy today, that a year or so down the road this company is going to be in so much trouble that the workers could lose their jobs? Is that in the back of people's minds this Labor Day?

SMITH: I think that's probably always in the back of everyone's mind. It seems to be a constant struggle in this industry to maintain the benefits and rights that we've fought for, for a number of years. And yes, it's a thought in the back of your mind that maybe they won't weather this. But we're confident that together we can work through this and restore that confidence.

POTTER: Do you think this company can survive all these problems?

SMITH: Yes, I do. And if they didn't, it wouldn't be because the steelworkers didn't make a supreme, sincere effort to get through.

POTTER: OK. Scott, thank you very much.

SMITH: Thank you.

POTTER: Enjoy the -- enjoy the picnic.

SMITH: Thank you much.

POTTER: Thank you.

Now, today, the company's attentions now turn toward Washington. The labor agreement issue is going to be behind it this week. But on Wednesday, leaders of Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Company will be testifying before Congress about their handling of the tire problems and the recall. And the Bridgestone company, the parent company based in Japan, is having some financial problems on the Tokyo stock exchange, where it is traded. Today, its stock is down 6.8 percent. In the last month, the company's stock has dropped 51 percent, and that, of course, is related to the tire controversy.

So while the labor issue has been dealt with and now there is a tentative contract, the company still has a lot of hard work ahead of it, trying to deal with the tire recall and all of the spinoff investigations, and perhaps most importantly, trying to re-establish the company's reputation.

Lou, back to you.

WATERS: All right, Mark Potter, at a picnic today in Murfeesboro.

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