I felt it important to write in response to the recent letter, “Unions are elephant in the room,” that appeared in The Gadsden Times. While I will ignore the numerous studies that show that the growth in wealth inequality and wage stagnation over the last few decades is tied to the decline of unionization in the country, I do want to confront the theme that somehow a union is a job-killing, distant enemy of jobs and this community.
The simple fact is, Local 12, the union at Goodyear is made up of 1,100 employees who live in the area. In fact, 71 percent of employees at Goodyear-Gadsden live in Etowah County. We are your neighbors; our children attend the same schools; we sit next to you at football, basketball and baseball games; we probably sit next to you in church pews on Sunday mornings.
As your neighbors, it is important to remember the many ways this union contributes to Etowah County and the surrounding areas:
• The union jobs at Goodyear-Gadsden paid $2.2 million in municipal taxes each year.
• The union jobs at the plant contribute to $8.5 million being spent at local vendors each year.
• Local 12 donates tens of thousands of dollars directly, annually, to local charities.
• Local 12 puts on a yearly Christmas party for exceptional children, for kids with disabilities, in our area. This past Christmas was the 68th annual event.
• Local 12 funds a yearly school supply drive for local children.
• Local 12 gives thousands of dollars annually to children of members in the form of the E.K. Bowers Scholarships, and we also donate to other local scholarship funds.
• Local 12 members are by far the largest provider to United Way with donations topping $250,000 annually.
Yes, the jobs at the Gadsden plant pay well — because people joining together to improve their working conditions, pay and benefits is a powerful force for good. The union at Goodyear-Gadsden won its first contract on Aug. 25, 1943. Over the course of the last 77 years, we have watched recessions come and go, watched as new competitors came into the market and marched on the picket lines when it came to fighting for our standard of living in this community. And as unfairly imported tires decimated good-paying, tire-making jobs (both union and non-union) in this country, we, the union, fought back by successfully filing many trade cases to stop other countries from hurting this industry.
It is hard to see how our union demanding good wages and benefits as impeding progress, considering that Goodyear is a profitable company. In 2018, the business segment Gadsden operates in made more than $650 million in profit from operations. And the last public filing made by Goodyear showed that in just the first nine months of 2019, the same business segment made almost $400 million. The profitability of the company certainly allows Goodyear CEO Rich Kramer to make a salary that is 137 times the median salary of all other Goodyear employees. On top of the $1.3 million that Kramer was paid in 2018 as his salary, he received another almost $2 million in a long-term incentive cash payout. And let’s not forget the additional $5.3 million in stock awards he received in 2018. No, Goodyear remains a profitable company and chooses to pay its CEO handsomely and never complains about his high labor costs or whether he contributes to a productive facility.
Lastly, we do help our sisters and brothers in the union. Gadsden employees represented by the union are offered Institute for Career Development benefits while they are working, so they can further their education, that is fully funded by the union. Our laid-off workers are eligible for Supplemental Unemployment Benefits, which are negotiated into our collective bargaining agreement by the union and help provide an additional lifeline while they are out of work.
The union also went out and made sure that all of our workers that are either laid off or took the voluntary buyout had access to TAA benefits from the State of Alabama. These benefits include services to help our members obtain other jobs, college education assistance, training, job search and relocation allowances, income support and other re-employment services. Not only did we help our fellow union-represented workers but we, the union, also told non-union Goodyear employees that may be displaced by this situation that we would help them with obtain these same TAA benefits.
It is simply not true and unfair to paint your neighbors as the reason this plant is downsizing. It is also not true and unfair to suggest that your neighbors did nothing for members of this community when they were affected by the buyouts/layoffs, regardless of whether they were represented by the union or not. Blaming your neighbors, who for decades have contributed a portion of the benefits of good-paying jobs to this community is simply wrong. At the end of the day, companies make these decisions to downsize or close plants. Your neighbors do not.
Mickey Williams is president of United Steelworkers Local 12, which represents union employees at Gadsden’s Goodyear plant.