UAW strikes GM plant
3,400 Flint, Mich., workers walk out; strike could cost GM millions
NEW YORK (CNNfn) - About 3,400 union members struck a key General Motors Corp. parts plant Friday, a move which could force the automaker to close factories all across the country and cost GM hundreds of millions of dollars.
Members of United Auto Workers Union Local 659 walked off the job shortly after 10 a.m. Friday after marathon talks failed to produce an agreement.
The strike, the seventh against GM since early 1997, involves accelerated workloads, outsourcing and health and safety issues, officials of Local 659 said.
However, GM contends the dispute dates back to a 1995 efficiency agreement reached with the local union to eliminate non-competitive work practices.
"This is not an issue that has surfaced overnight...To date, they have not lived up to their commitments," said GM spokeswoman Mary Irby.
Flint factory supplies 16 assembly plants
The Flint factory supplies 16 GM assembly plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico with fenders, doors, hoods and other sheet metal parts for most of GM's full-size light trucks and some cars.
Because GM assembly plants operate on a "just in time" delivery schedule, the strike at the Flint stamping plant could force the automaker to halt production at other GM factories within a few days.
The UAW, seeking to increase the pressure on GM, already set a second strike deadline of 7 p.m., Thursday, June 11, at a nearby plant run by GM's Delphi unit.
Talks set for Saturday
Both sides are scheduled to resume talks on Saturday, but judging by the rhetoric coming from GM and the UAW, it may be hard to reach a quick settlement.
As witnessed by a 17-day labor dispute in 1996 at a plant in Dayton, Ohio, a lengthy strike could cost the nation's leading automaker hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales.
In March of 1996, some 3,000 workers from two Delphi Automotive plants walked off the job, idling thousands of workers across the nation. The shutdowns cost GM $900 million in lost profits.
"If not resolved immediately, this will have a long-term impact on our employees, our customers and the community," Irby said.
Analysts estimate Friday's strike could cost GM as much as $200 million per week in lost profits.
GM accused the union of failing to live up to agreements made three years ago to implement new work practices that would make the plant more efficient, and said it was concerned that some UAW members at the plant are not working full days.
"We do expect a fair day's work for a fair day's pay," Irby said. "It's imperative that the local union cooperate with us to get rid of work practices that keep us from running our machines at their full capacity and realizing their full potential."
But union officials said the automaker has not lived up to its end of the agreement to deliver on its promise for $300 million in new equipment that would ensure the plant's future.
"Now all of the sudden, they have reneged on their written commitment for investment in the plant, jobs and work," said Norm McComb, vice president of Local 659.
UAW claims GM shifting jobs overseas
UAW Vice President Richard Shoemaker accused the automaker of trying to shift jobs to Mexico, China, Thailand and Mexico.
"A contract adhered to by only one side is one that is no contract at all." Shoemaker said. "They're also ignoring their social contract with America by transferring jobs to China Thailand and Mexico."
As GM opens new plants in those countries, Flint stands to lose 11,000 jobs in the next two years, Shoemaker said.
Terrence Kirby, a 13-year machine repairman at the Flint Metal Center brought his 12-year-old daughter, Mary, to the plant to witness the walkout.
He said GM was "a never-satisfied greedy corporation that basically has no concern or care for working families." He wanted to show his daughter that "sometimes working people have to fight for what they believe in."
The Flint plant is home to the components used for GM's new pickup trucks -- a highly profitable segment of the market.
GM moved equipment ahead of strike
Concerned about the worsening labor conditions, GM has tried to remove valuable components used in GM's new full-sized pickup truck from the plants at least twice since Memorial Day weekend.
"They came in during the Memorial Day weekend. They hired scabs and, when nobody was around, they stole all the dies for the new 800 truck. So that just added fuel to the fire," McComb said.
Two days ago, GM attempted to remove the stamping racks, which are used to ship hoods and fenders, from the plant only to be stopped by union representatives.
The company said it remains on schedule for the truck's introduction this fall.
GM (GM) shares were off 11/16 to 74-3/4 in mid-afternoon trade.
-- from staff and wire reports
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