Autoworkers Ride To The Rescue

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With red and white magnetic signs saying "Explorer Safety Confidence Rally" affixed to drivers' side doors, almost 500 members of United Auto Workers Local 900 headed off to Washington, D.C. Monday morning.

They pulled out in a long caravan of Ford Explorers to begin the expected 10-hour journey to join UAW members from around the nation for a rally Tuesday in support for Ford Motor Co. and its products.

The rally will begin just as congressional hearings get under way looking into the safety of the Explorer and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. tires.

United Auto Workers Local 900 member Darwin Harris displays an Explorer Safety Confidence Rally T-shirt

The federal government has linked certain Firestone tires to at least 174 deaths and more than 700 injuries.

The trip began on the same day that a billion-dollar lawsuit against stemming from the deaths of a Florida couple in May 2000 was expected to be announced in Stuart, Florida.

Last August, it ordered the recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires, installed mainly as original equipment on Ford Explorers. On May 22, Ford announced it will pay to replace 13 million tires that were not recalled, saying the tires are more prone to failure than competitors' tires.

Firestone has said the Explorer must bear some of the blame for the accidents.

"It's absolutely the tires' fault," said Local 900 member Eddie Brown. "The Explorer is quality build. There isn't a problem."

As she stood in line to collect her sign, map and hotel instructions, seven-year Ford assembly plant worker Wendy Martin said she was offended by Firestone's suggestions about the Explorer's safety.

"There is nothing wrong with the Explorer. We build them, we know how much work we put into building them," she said.

Local 900 president Jeff Washington said he understands why Firestone feels the need to cast doubt on the Explorer's safety, but he said, "We will prevail."

Washington said at least 481 members of his local have signed up for the trip, which is being partially funded by Ford.

"They're paying for the hotels and gas," said Washington.

Local 900 represents the Michigan Truck Plant, which builds the Ford Expedition.

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