TUSCALOOSA BFGoodrich workers are prepared to go on strike tonight if negotiations between union officials and corporate executives are not resolved.

I don't think it's likely, but it's possible. Anything is possible," said James Crowder, recording secretary for United Steelworkers of America Local 351, which represents workers at BFGoodrich Tire Manufacturing in Tuscaloosa.

Officials from the union and Michelin, BFGoodrich's parent company, have been meeting in Knoxville, Tenn., since early June to negotiate a contract regarding wages and employee benefits, job security and capital spending provisions at three U.S. plants.

Crowder expects that the groups will reach an agreement before the midnight Tuesday Eastern time deadline. Nevertheless, he and other union members will be at the union hall on Culver Road awaiting word from their union president.

If we get notice from Knoxville that they're at an impasse, that they've done all they can do but there's still no contract he thinks the membership can live with, then we'll strike," he said.

Crowder said that the company is asking for a wage cut of $7 an hour and benefit reductions for all workers. Employees at the Tuscaloosa plant make an average hourly wage of $22, and the lowest earners make $13 per hour, he said. The $7 decrease would mean more than a 30 percent reduction in pay for those who make $22.

The Tuscaloosa plant opened in 1946. The last time workers went on strike was for five and a half months in 1976, Crowder said. A strike was threatened two years ago when bargaining talks went on for a year and a half, but the parties agreed in August 2004 to a contract that required the company to invest $150 million in its plants. Other provisions included continuance of annual 3 percent cost-of-living raises, improved health care benefits and a guarantee of no layoffs.

Tommy Hyche, assistant pension insurance representative for Local 351, had been working for the company for about three years during the last strike. It was tough for workers, he said, but it was necessary to negotiate cost-of-living raises.

A strike hurts everybody. It hurts employees who don't receive wages. It hurts the company with the stopping of production," he said. It's nothing that we want to see happen. But unless there is some movement on some of the key issues, if that's what it takes to do it, we will."

A strike would idle about 4,000 workers at the company's three U.S. plants. There also are plants in Opelika and Woodburn, Ind., near Fort Wayne. The company closed its Ontario, Canada, plant July 22, eliminating more than 1,000 jobs.

Together, all three plants have the capacity to produce 73,000 tires each day, according to the 2006 Facts Issue of the tire industry publication Modern Tire Dealer.

Dave Zielasko is the publisher and editor of Tire Business, another trade publication based in Ohio, as well as publisher of Rubber & Plastics News. He said that it doesn't appear that the workers will strike, because both sides have agreed to extend negotiations twice.

The Tuesday midnight deadline is the second extension in the talks that began in June. The contract was set to expire July 22. It was extended 24 hours to a Sunday morning deadline, and another 48 to the Wednesday deadline.

Earlier this month, BFGoodrich announced plans to cut as many as 540 workers from its Opelika plant, citing the declining demand for tires and foreign competitors with lower-cost operations. No layoffs for Tuscaloosa were announced, and Crowder said then that union members don't expect any.

Zielasko said that tire plants are closing across North America for those reasons. The demand for smaller-sized passenger car tires is going down.

It's more likely that [the Tuscaloosa] plant wouldn't be affected, because the market for those tires is growing, and the profit margin is greater," he said.

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