United Rubber Workers bring rich 60-year history to the USWA.
Akron, Ohio -- The newest members of the Steelworkers Union come
from the 60-year-old United Rubber, Cork, Linoleum & Plastic Workers
of America, founded September 12, 1935, in Akron -- then the "Rubber
Capital of the World" and former home base for most of the major
tire and rubber companies.
The union's founding was preceded by 30 years of struggle to organize. The
"sit-down" strike was born among rubber workers as Rex Murray,
later a charter member of the URW and then president of the General Tire local
in Akron, led the first "sit-down" in June 1934.
Among the struggles of those days was the 1936 Goodyear strike, which saw
11 miles of picket lines around Akron. CIO President John L. Lewis of the
Mine Workers rallied support for the rubber workers.
Violence against activists was common. URW founding President Sherman
Dalrymple was beaten by company goons in Alabama.
But the numbers were increasing from the initial 3,050 founding members,
and by the end of 1935 the URW had chartered 39 local unions. The first
local in Canada was chartered in 1936 -- Local 67 in Kitchener, Ont.
Despite the Depression, morale and loyalty ran high, and by the late 1930s
membership grew to more than 100,000. It continued to grow during World
War II to nearly 190,000 in 222 locals by 1945 and to nearly 209,000 by
In its 10th year --1945, the URW expanded its jurisdiction to cork,
linoleum and plastics workers. In that year also, L.S. Buckmaster was elected
president to lead the union during the national conversion to peacetime
Traditionally, bargaining in the rubber industry had been on an individual
plant basis. Working toward company wide bargaining, the union succeeded
in 1946 in negotiating a general wage increase with the "Big Four"
Goodyear, U.S. Rubber, Firestone and Goodrich -- in one set of negotiations. The
first company wide agreement came in 1947, when a "master
agreement" with U.S. Rubber was applied uniformly to 19 company plants. By
1948, all the major companies had "master agreements."
In 1949, the union established its first Fair Practices Department aimed
at stamping out injustices based on race, sex, colour, religion or national
origin. Also in 1949, the URW began to demand better pensions, and when Goodrich
agreed to improve its contributory plan, the stage was set for achievement of
union-negotiate non-contributory pensions and insurance plans in the Big
In 1960, George Burdon, the union's organizing director, was elected
international president. Peter Bommarito, president of Local 101 in
Detroit, was elected vice president, and Ike Gold, of Firestone Local 7, was
Bommarito was elected president in 1966 and served until 1981, becoming a
legend in the union as a fighting leader. The year after his election,
the URW confronted what Bommarito called an "unholy alliance" -- a
mutual assistance pact among what had become the "Big Five"
with the rise of Uniroyal. Bommarito led 52,000 men and women onto picket lines at the Big Five and 23 independent companies, as the
union won major wage increases and benefit improvements.
Another of Bommarito's achievements was the establishment of a Joint
Occupational Health Agreement as the URW became the first union to employ
a full-time industrial hygienist, Louis S. Beliczky, in 1971.
In 1974, URW Canadian locals won cost-of-living adjustments after a
lengthy strike, paving the way for U.S. locals to win similar inflation
protection in 1976, with an 140-day strike at Firestone, Uniroyal, Goodrich and
In 1981, Milan "Mike" Stone became the URW's fifth president and
led the union through the anti-labour 1980s. Against threats of losing
COLA, the URW held its own. And in 1984, the union led the way toward health
care cost containment reaching an agreement with Uniroyal months before
1985 contract talks were scheduled. Similar cost containment language with protection of benefits was then negotiated
with Goodrich, Goodyear and Firestone.
Kenneth L. Coss was elected president in 1990 and led successful
negotiations in 1991 with Bridgestone/Firestone, setting a pattern for the other
companies. Building on an effort begun by Stone, the union won
recognition at Bridgestone's new plant in Warren County, Tenn., based on a card
check. This uncontentious recognition of URW Local 1155 certainly did not
foretell the "War of '94" that Bridgestone was soon to launch against the URW and American workers.
Under Coss' direction, the URW made significant efforts to improve
education programs and communications activities, and to strengthen
labour-management cooperation. Recognizing the overwhelming challenges facing
the URW and other industrial unions, Coss along with his union
leadership, led the union toward the merger with the United Steelworkers.
With that merger, the URW and the entire labor movement in North America have a
new beginning. Today, the USWA Rubber/Plastic Industry Conference is led
by John Sellers, appointed March 1, 1996 as the Executive Vice President of the Conference.
JOHN SELLARS EXECUTIVE
Headquarters – Akron, Ohio
John Sellers is serving his second term as executive vice president of the
USWA Rubber/Plastics Industry Conference (R/PIC), representing former
members of the United Rubber Workers. Sellers was appointed to that post on
March 1, 1996, elected by delegates to an R/PIC conference in September 1996 and
re-elected to a four-year term in September 1997.
Sellers joined URW Local 639 at AMF Voit in Santa Ana, Cal., in 1966 and was
appointed to the URW staff in 1978. He joined the international staff in 1991
and served as organizing director, education director and political education
director, as well as participating in master contract bargaining. With the USWA,
Sellers coordinated the successful corporate campaign against
Bridgestone/Firestone and leads the union’s negotiations with the major tire
companies. He also serves on
the USWA International Executive Board.
570 White Pond Drive
Akron Ohio 44320
1.330.869.0320 - Telephone