ST. LOUIS (AP) - With a strike averted and a tentative contract in hand, troubled tire maker Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and its workers said Monday they're ready to get down to the business of making good tires and replacing bad ones.
''We're going to do everything we can to restore the public's faith in the company,'' said John Sellers, a lead negotiator for more than 8,000 Bridgestone/Firestone workers represented by United Steelworkers of America.
Union negotiators announced just before dawn Monday that they had reached a tentative contract agreement with the company. The agreement came after a weekend of around-the-clock negotiating that had continued past the union's initial strike deadline Friday night.
Once the agreement is ratified by union members, expected to happen later this week, ''then everybody will be focused on the business of making tires,'' Sellers said.
The three-year deal governs workers at nine of Bridgestone/Firestone's 28 U.S. factories. It includes yearly wage hikes, higher cost-of-living adjustments and increased pension benefits, but union officials would not release details Monday.
Tracy Russell, who works at a Bridgestone/Firestone plant in LaVergne, Tenn., said the tentative contract described to him by union leaders would increase wages by 20 cents an hour in each of the first two years and 25 cents an hour in the third.
While Bridgestone/Firestone managed to avoid a strike, the company's troubles are far from over.
It is in the midst of an effort to replace 6.5 million recalled tires in the United States, and a federal investigation continues into 88 U.S. traffic deaths allegedly linked to the brands under recall.
Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned that an additional 1.4 million tires could be dangerous and should be replaced. This week, Congress begins hearings to find out when the companies knew about the defects.
The problems continued to mount on Monday when Venezuela's consumer protection agency announced that Bridgestone/Firestone would recall 62,000 tires made there that are believed to be linked to least 46 fatal accidents. Venezuela officials already had recommended the tire maker and Ford Motor Co. - which used the tires on some trucks and sport utility vehicles - be held criminally responsible.
All of this loomed in the background as negotiators bargained day and night for most of a week in a suburban St. Louis hotel.
''The timing could have been better,'' Bridgestone/Firestone chief negotiator Saul Solomon said. ''But I think both parties here wanted to get this done.''
Firestone employee Jim Ash summed of the thoughts of many of his fellow workers: ''We need the company for jobs,'' he said, ''but they need us for quality products, particularly with the mess they're in now.''
Labor Day was a holiday for Nashville, Tenn.-based Bridgestone/Firestone.
Normally the company hosts a picnic for workers at its LaVergne plant, said employee Frank Tuttle. ''I guess they were just a little too busy with other things,'' he said.
The contract includes workers at plants in LaVergne and Morrison, Tenn.; Bloomington and Decatur, Ill.; Des Moines, Iowa; Oklahoma City; Akron, Ohio; Noblesville, Ind.; and Russellville, Ark.
On the Net:
United Steelworkers of America: http://www.uswa.org
Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov