PITTSBURGH (AP) – Union workers at four older BF Goodrich tire plants approved contract concessions that will cut labor costs at the plants about 20 percent, a savings of $60 million a year.

The United Steelworkers of America on Friday said 70 percent of the 3,400 union workers at tire plants in Woodburn, Ind., and Tuscaloosa and Opelika, Ala., approved the pact, which runs through July 2006.

About 1,000 union workers at a plant in Kitchener, Ontario, backed a similar deal Monday.

Officials at BF Goodrich’s French parent company, Michelin, didn’t offer specific details, but said employees agreed to health care, pay and staffing concessions.

The company said it agreed to a “modest” pension increase to keep pace with inflation and to pay $20 million to help about 9,000 U.S. retirees pay for increased health costs.

The cost cuts were “absolutely critical to the long-term viability of these plants and giving Michelin the flexibility it needs to adapt to fluctuating market demands,” Michelin said in a statement.

The contract also allows for more temporary labor and rollbacks of cost-of-living increases for the U.S. workers, Michelin said.

The union stressed the deal guarantees there will be no layoffs or plant closures for the length of the contract; limits outsourcing of maintenance and other mechanical work; and calls for BF Goodrich to invest at least $150 million to make plants more efficient.

Union spokesman Wayne Ranick said the combination of factory improvements and guaranteed job security was significant, “given the backdrop of what’s happening with American manufacturing.”

“They’re enhancing the viability of these plants for the future,” Ranick said.

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AP-ES-08-27-04 1326EDT

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