Sun, May 18, 2008 - Page 11 News List

US auto workers’ strike could end with tentative deal


A bitter 80-day United Auto Workers (UAW) strike against an auto parts maker that has crippled dozens of General Motors Corp (GM) factories could be coming to an end soon with a tentative contract agreement reached on Friday.

Renee Rogers, spokeswoman for American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc, confirmed on Friday night that both sides had agreed on a deal, but said she could not provide details.

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement on Friday night that the American Axle bargaining committee voted to recommend the agreement to members.

The union said details of the deal would be presented to members in Detroit, Michigan, today. Times and locations of meetings for workers at plants in New York and Three Rivers, Michigan, were still being arranged, the statement said.

It was unclear when votes would take place or when workers could return to their jobs.

About 3,600 UAW members at five factories have been on strike since Feb. 26 over the company’s demand for reduced wages.

“This has been an extremely difficult struggle for our members and their families,” UAW vice president Jimmy Settles said in a statement. “By standing strong during this strike, UAW members gave our bargaining committee the strength to face the challenges at the negotiating table.”

The work stoppage affected more than 30 GM plants and decreased production by 230,000 vehicles through last month. GM also said the strike cost it US$800 million in the first quarter.

Workers on the picket lines in Detroit have been hoping for a settlement since GM’s surprise announcement on May 8 that it would throw in US$200 million to help end the walkout. The offer was contingent on a quick resolution of the dispute, but the deal didn’t come for more than a week as both sides haggled over healthcare costs and supplemental unemployment benefits.

On May 1, workers said they were told by a union official that both sides were negotiating a settlement that included the closure of American Axle’s Detroit and Tonawanda, New York, forge operations. At that time, the deal also included wage cuts for production workers to US$17 an hour from about US$28.

Workers also were told that skilled trades employees such as electricians would see their wages cut to US$25.50 an hour from roughly US$32.

The company would pay workers US$90,000 “buydowns” over three years to ease the transition to lower wages, and it would offer US$140,000 over two years for workers to sever all ties with the company, workers said they were told.

GM said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission that its money would go for temporary payments to buffer reduced wages for the workers, as well as employee buyout and early retirement packages.

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