Saturday, March 18, 2017

A worker at Goodyear's Gadsden plant was injured


A worker at Goodyear's Gadsden plant was injured today, company officials said.

In a statement, the company said the accident happened early this morning. Company officials did not identify the employee or give any information on the accident or the extent of any injuries.

"Goodyear's on-site emergency response team, as well as local emergency personnel responded immediately," the company stated. "An investigation into the cause of the injury is underway."


OVERLAND PARK, Kan.—Years ago the former United Rubber Workers union and Goodyear worked together on a collaborative program that may be responsible for one of the firm’s U.S. tire factories still operating today.

And two of the participants in the program, the third-party facilitator and a Goodyear manager of industrial relations, say the principles they focused on still are relevant in labor-management relations today.

Robert Hughes, currently president of Overland Resource Group in Overland Park, was working back in the 1980s with W.P. Dolan & Associates, a forerunner of his current firm. W.P. Dolan at the time was working with Goodyear and the URW in Tyler, Texas, as the company was looking to convert the factory from bias-ply to radial tire production.

W.P. Dolan focused on helping union and management clients work together in a collaborative manner to help improve organizational performance, according to Hughes. He said that Jerry Butcher, head of Goodyear’s North American manufacturing at the time, approached them about setting up a similar program at the Gadsden, Ala., facility, represented by URW Local 12.

The Alabama plant basically had two parts, one an old area where bias tires were produced, and then a newer expansion put up in the 1970s to manufacture radials. “Jerry said this is a big work force, with a lot of experience and an experienced management team,” Hughes said. “It’s been a good plant for us. But the board of Goodyear is not going to spend money on improving locations if they don’t see we have a reasonable business relationship with labor.”

Doug Wade was sent to the Gadsden plant in 1986 as manager of industrial relations, and he recalls that a lot of company personnel refused to go to Gadsden because the threat of closure hung over the factory. He went there with the expectation that the plant would not survive.

But after talking to union and management officials, they presented a plant to Goodyear leadership to try to save the facility. The top executives felt like they were hearing a tale they’d heard before, and historically it was “all talk and no change,” Wade said. “Goodyear signed off with great doubt it would ever happen.”

At that point Goodyear leadership—headed by Butcher—suggested they work with W.L. Dolan, as the company and union were in Tyler. So Wade and the president of Local 12 at the time went and met with plant management and union leadership from the Texas facility to see if they felt the process could work in Gadsden.
Difficult times

Wade said at the time both Goodyear and the union were experiencing difficulties. The company was being raided by Sir James Goldsmith, and the URW had lost membership because of plant closings. “We had two sick organizations that needed to change,” Wade said.

After both sides agreed, W.L. Dolan helped build structure and provide facilitation and expertise to deal with key issues such as quality, safety, communication and lowering medical costs.

With the bias and radial sides at the Gadsden plan, Wade said there were two separate cultures that never worked well together. “We tired to create ‘One Gadsden,’ ” he said.

There were difficult things to deal with, including changing the piece work and bumping structures to make it a more efficient operation. Goodyear leadership gave a target of $30 million in costs savings, so the two sides had to reopen the contract that had just been reached the prior year, Wade said.

“That was a hard pill for the union to swallow, but they agreed to,” he said. “We had a week in order to successfully negotiate a contract that would take $30 million in cost out of the plant.”

Among the changes was working with local hospitals and doctors to build a Goodyear medical facility for employees and retirees that helped lower health care costs.

The toughest issue, though, was changes to piece work and mandating employees work a full shift rather than being able to quit after making a quota, something Wade said was deeply embedded in the culture. “”When we pulled the trigger on that, it had a dramatic (negative) impact on production,” he said. “We had a lot of blood, sweat and tears to try to get our production back to a level that was acceptable that we could be competitive.”

Local union leaders, though, were committed to making the change a success in the end, and production did return to competitive levels, he said. “I think we were very successful in how we communicated differently during that period of time and were very effective in our business education and communications efforts.”
Program fades away

A water tower at Goodyear's plant in Gadsden, Ala.

Wade returned to Akron in 1989 and was given the task to spread the program to Goodyear’s other union tire plants in North America. They had varying degrees of success, according to Wade.

“Those places didn’t quite have the dramatic need for change for survival that Gadsden did,” he said.

But Kenneth Coss, URW president at the time, and other union officials such as John Sellers and Jim Jessie were instrumental in pushing the program, Wade said. They were trying to convince these locations to get ahead of the curve and make changes when it wasn’t as painful.

“The other locations bought into it and we were in the midst of working with them and setting up problem solving teams to work on quality, safety and improving plant performance,” Wade said.

But from his perspective, several things happened that Wade said led to the collaborative effort ending between Goodyear and labor.

First, the URW merged in 1995 with the United Steelworkers. In the first negotiations with the USW at the helm, there was a strike that Wade and others at Goodyear hadn’t expected. “That drove a wedge in what we were trying to accomplish in management’s eyes,” he said.

Then Jessie—a leading driver from the union’s ranks—died unexpectedly, and Butcher, the key player on management’s side, was transferred to Asia. “When all those came together, nobody pulled the plug on it,” Wade said, “but nobody really championed it and supported it like they did the previous five years. And it just kind of faded away.”

Then the union staged a bigger strike in the early 2000s. “If it was on life support before, that just pulled the plug,” he said.

Wade himself was transferred and was HR director in Asia from 1999 to 2004. He then retired from Goodyear and worked with Hughes’ organization for 12 years before retiring from there this past January.

Both Wade and Hughes believe what they accomplished in Gadsden and elsewhere in Goodyear is applicable in today’s society.

“We believe most of what you need to know to make your operation work better is already known inside the operation,” Hughes said. “But you’re not organized in a way that you get to that data. So people three and four layers away from where the work is done are making all the decisions about how to do it.”

Wade said fundamental principles they applied on such issues as competitive problems, utilizing the work force to help effectuate and implement change, and improving communications can be applied anywhere.

“I’m very proud of what we did accomplish,” he said. “The main thing, other places haven’t survived and that place is still making tires today. I feel good to be a part of having helped them secure their future back in 1986 by what we did, as painful as it was.”