AKRON, Ohio — A three-month-long strike by about 14,000 Goodyear employees may have been nearing an end Thursday as workers voted on whether to accept a new contract that the world's third-largest tire producer hopes would help make it more competitive.

If accepted, the contract could mean shutting a plant in Texas that employs 1,100 people and creating a $1 billion health-care fund for retirees of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

Goodyear and the United Steelworkers union tentatively settled on a three-year labor pact Dec. 22 that would cover 12 Goodyear plants in 10 states and would end the strike that began Oct. 5.

Two union locals that represent plants in Lincoln, Neb., and Union City, Tenn., voted Wednesday to approve the contract. Other branches, including about 400 members of Local 2L in Akron, where Goodyear is based, were casting ballots Thursday.

USW headquarters spokesman Wayne Ranick said voting would continue until about 10:30 p.m. Thursday and the results of the vote would be released today. To be ratified, the contract must be approved by a majority of the voters plus a majority of the locals — seven out of 12.

Voters offered mixed reviews.

"If this proves to be something that gives us a future, then yes, I'm ready to go back. It's been a hard three months," said Dave Hulsey, 59, a worker at the company's technical center in Akron who's worked for Goodyear since he was 18.

Richard Scritchfield, a 28-year tiremaker in Akron, voted after spending the night on picket-line duty. "Most of the guys I talked to are against it," he said.

Terry Huddleston, a 14-year Goodyear worker in Akron, said he voted for the agreement but with some reservations, saying he believes the rank-and-file have had to sacrifice too often.

"It's unfortunate," Huddleston said. "I love all these guys. God bless them. We've managed to stick it out for three months, but a lot of families are suffering."

In Gadsden, Ala., where Goodyear has a tire plant, union members started voting before sunrise. USW Local 12 vice president Bren Riley said turnout was strong and that workers hope Goodyear will invest $125 million to upgrade the plant and secure jobs.

Dan Levin, 43, of Waupun, Wis., sat at a table inside the VFW hall in Sun Prairie, Wis., greeting his fellow workers from the nearby Goodyear plant who came to vote.

Levin, who has worked at the plant for 12 years, said he was optimistic the contract would win approval.

"People have been out of work, having a hard time, and they're hurting," he said. He described the new contract as "the best we can do." -->

The tentative deal allows Goodyear to stick with its plans to close a plant in Tyler, Texas, but not immediately. It provides for a one-year transition period during which workers will have the opportunity to take advantage of retirement buyouts. The plant employs workers who make unprofitable wholesale private label tires.

Tyler union members were to vote Thursday night.

A key disagreement had been the company's proposed health care fund for retirees. Goodyear ultimately agreed to put $1 billion into the fund for medical benefits, which was higher than the company's previous $660 million offer but less than what the union had sought.

Goodyear is seeking a contract that will help it be more globally competitive. The deal includes a $13 per hour starting wage for new hires, down from a current typical hourly wage of $24.

Goodyear has about 80,000 employees and makes tires, engineered rubber products and chemicals in 29 countries.

The union members voting nationwide include active workers as well as about 1,400 inactive workers, which includes some who have been laid off.

Workers at four Goodyear plants in Ontario, Canada, where about 400 union members are striking four plants, planned to vote Thursday and Friday on a separate company proposal.


On the Net: Union: www.gkdsolidarityexpress.org

Goodyear: www.goodyearnegotiations.com