Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company and union workers negotiated on Saturday on a counterproposal the union says provides better job security and health care benefits than the company’s latest offer, Associated Press (AP) reported.

United Steelworkers of America spokesman Wayne Ranick told AP the proposal submitted on Saturday was a detailed response to the company’s offer that the union rejected on Wednesday. Ranick also reportedly said the proposal stressed health benefits for workers and retirees, but he would not discuss details of the union’s requests.

Goodyear and the union have disagreed on company proposals to cut jobs and health benefits to save money, AP noted.

Goodyear spokesman Chuck Sinclair would not discuss the union’s proposal with The Associated Press. He reportedly said the two sides took a break from negotiations on Saturday night and would not meet again before Monday.

“We’ll need some time to run some numbers and take a look at what’s included,” Sinclair said of the union’s proposal, according to AP.

Ranick reportedly said both sides were focused on reaching an agreement as soon as possible, adding: “I think it’s very realistic. Both sides realise that in a very short time a deal has to be done.”

Associate Press noted that the Akron, Ohio-based company reported a record $US1.1 billion annual loss for fiscal 2002 and has announced a turnaround plan that includes reducing costs by $1 billion to $1.5 billion by the end of 2005 and possibly selling some of its non-tyre businesses.

“Our whole perspective is you’re not going to restructure this on the backs of the current employees and retirees,” Ranick told AP, adding: “Our position is that for the company to revitalise itself, they really have to make a commitment to North American production.”

Associated Press said Goodyear’s contract with the union expired on April 19 but was extended – it covers 16,000 employees at 14 US plants.