updated 1/2/2007 4:55:45 PM ET 2007-01-02T21:55:45

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. workers returned Tuesday after a three-month strike, with the world’s third-largest tire maker saying it could be weeks before full production resumes.

“Production at the affected tire and engineered products plants will ramp up over the next few weeks,” the Akron-based company said in a statement marking the return. “Full supply of Goodyear products is expected to be available soon thereafter.”

Jack Hefner, vice president of Steelworkers Local 2 in Akron, said Tuesday that workers were happy to be back. “Morale, I would say, is (they are) glad to be back to work,” he said.

But there was tension at the Sun Prairie, Wis., plant where some workers said managers smiled and waved their paychecks at the picket lines.

“They welcomed us back with open arms, but there’s still tension,” said Greg Lueptow, vice president of Local 904, who has worked at the tire maker for 23 years. “You know, three months was a long time to be without work. It’s going to be slow. It’s a healing process. You can only heal with time.”

Jon Rich, president of Goodyear’s North American Tire business, said the company welcomed the end of the walkout.

“I have no doubt our associates will quickly return to their normal high levels of performance and productivity,” he said.

Workers at 12 plants in 10 states ended their strike Friday by approving a three-year agreement covering 14,000 employees that includes plans to close the Tyler, Texas, tire factory and creates a $1 billion health care fund for retirees. The contract was approved by all 12 locals and the overall membership by a 2-to-1 ratio.

The company said the pact will help reduce its costs by $610 million over three years and $300 million a year thereafter.

Goodyear ultimately agreed to put $1 billion into a health care fund for retired union workers’ medical benefits, higher than the company’s previous $660 million offer but less than the union’s call for roughly double that amount.

Canadian workers voted Friday to approve separate contracts for each of four locations in Ontario, company spokesman Ed Markey said.

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