On Thursday, approximately 250 people, members of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 310 and their supporters, marched over NW 2nd Street in a show of solidarity as the union engaged in contract negotiations with Bridgestone-Firestone. Local 310 represents almost 900 workers at the Des Moines Bridgestone-Firestone plant, which manufactures tires for agricultural equipment. The union’s existing contract with the company was set to expire at 11 p.m. on Thursday night, and members were preparing for the possibility of a strike.
The contract covered the more than 3,000 workers USW represents at the company’s six U.S. plants, located in Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, Ohio and Tennessee. Union and company representatives were meeting in Lexington, Kentucky to negotiate a new contract.
The orange-shirted union members who marched in Des Moines said they were doing so in support of their demands for fair wages, better health insurance and other improvements. The march began at Local 310 headquarters and proceeded to the tire plants, where the marchers lined the street, holding signs bearing messages in both English and Spanish.
Union members pointed to the company’s increased profits as proof that it could meet their demands. The Bridgestone Group, the Japan-based parent company of Bridgestone-Firestone, reported a 5 percent increase in profits during the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, resulting in an operating profit of $634 million.
Gabriel Delacerda, a former forklift driver for Bridgestone-Firestone, said most of his family has worked for the company. Now some of them are experiencing mobility issues and other health concerns.
“They can’t be here so I am,” Delacerda said.
John Campbell, who recently retired after working at the plant for 32 years, spoke about the importance of rallying for rights as a way of preserving workers’ dignity.
“I did the dirtiest, nastiest jobs but I had dignity,” he said. “Every time they tried to strip me of it, I fought back.”
Contract talks dragged on throughout the day and into the night. Roughly 30 minutes after the contract lapsed, union negotiators announced they had reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with Bridgestone-Firestone, preventing a strike.
The tentative agreement will be submitted to USW members for review and an eventual up-or-down vote.