UAW Pickets GM as Strike Deadline Passes

A strike may be in the offing at General Motors. Picketing began outside the Detroit headquarters Monday morning after marathon talks failed to produce agreement on a contract by a pre-arranged deadline.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Officials from a United Auto Workers local in Detroit say their members are on strike against General Motors. The announcement came in the last half hour as a strike deadline passed and marathon negotiations on a new contract apparently failed to yield an agreement. The union's national leadership has not publicly announced a strike. The UAW and GM have been in historic contract talks over issues that could fundamentally change the U.S. auto industry. But with workers off the job in places, the status of those talks is unclear.

NPR's Frank Langfitt is covering this story and joins us from UAW Local 22 in Detroit. And Frank, what do we know about the walkout?

FRANK LANGFITT: Well, so far, what we know here at Local 22 is they were waiting at 11 o'clock to hear from the national union, to hear whether they should go on strike or not. And they had told all their workers down at the Cadillac plant about 10 minutes from here that if we don't hear anything, we're walking. And so, around 11:05, George McGregor - he runs the union here. He came out saying, we're walking. And since then, tons of people have been coming in getting their strike assignments here in the front lobby of the UAW local.

MONTAGNE: So this is one local, and there are reports that other locals around the country have walked out. But is this a surprise?

LANGFITT: It is. I think that people see the union as very weak. You know, not so long ago back in the 70s and early 80s, it was 1.5 million. Now it's down to maybe a third of that. GM is trying to do a turnaround, and they've lost billions of dollars last year. So a lot of people thought a strike could hurt both sides, and they saw this, really, by the union as a negotiating tactic, and it may still well be. You know, this strike could go on for three hours. It could go on for a number of days. We just don't know. We'll have to see exactly where it goes from here.

MONTAGNE: So this doesn't mean that the talks have necessarily broken down. They may still be - they're in these marathon talks, they may still be talking.

LANGFITT: Well, we haven't heard from either side, so we don't know that they've stopped talking. What we do know is there's a big sticking point over job security. The union wants guarantees that there are going to be new products in the United States for their workers. And what, of course, the GM wants is to take this huge health care obligations in the area of about $50 billion and have the union take it over in a trust fund. But the union may have a really hard time selling that to retirees, so it's looking for job guarantees. And that's where things seem to have been running aground for the last few days.

MONTAGNE: And their - the last strike of even just a couple of locals was 10 years ago. The last national strike was 30 years ago by the UAW. What would be the impact of a strike that lasts more than a few days and one that's a real national strike?

LANGFITT: Well, it could be disastrous. I mean, in a few days, GM has a lot of inventory, so it can continue to sell cars. It has cars on its dealer lot. But if it goes a lot longer, it's really - you know, GM is in a lot of trouble. It's in the process of this turnaround, but it's been battered so hard by Toyota and the last thing it needs is to not have any workers. It could also backfire to the union. You know, the GM has more or less said if it doesn't get these concessions on health care benefits for retirees from the union, it may be looking to send more and more jobs overseas. And so that could be a really, really tough hit for this union, because it's been losing membership now for many, many years.

Again, just to go back to something that you mentioned at the top, at this point, The Associated Press is reporting there are at least four other plants that are on strike, and we're going to have to watch in the next few hours to see if indeed this is a nationwide strike.

MONTAGNE: Well, we'll be following this story as it continues. NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it.

MONTAGNE: Reporting from UAW Local 22 in Detroit. The news this hour, local UAW officials in Detroit say their members are on strike against General Motors. The union's national leadership has not announced a national strike.

This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

UAW Launches National Strike Against GM

In Depth: The Man Leading the UAW

Right now, Ron Gettelfinger may have the hardest job in American labor. He runs the United Auto Workers. On Sept. 14, he began the toughest contract talks in the union's history.
Read a profile of the man who leads the union as it tries to play a weak hand in dangerous times.

United Auto Workers picket outside General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wis.

United Auto Workers picket outside General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wis. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images

Auto workers walked off the job Monday at several General Motors plants as the automaker and United Auto Workers negotiators failed to meet a union-set deadline for a new contract.

After 20 straight days of negotiations, the UAW had imposed an 11 a.m. deadline in a bid to finalize a deal. But the union-imposed cutoff was dismissed as a mere bargaining stunt until workers started filing out of plants.

"GM walked right up to the deadline like they really didn't care," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

Outside manufacturing plants thousands of union auto workers were hoisting placards that read: "UAW on Strike."

It is the first nationwide strike against the U.S. auto industry since 1976.

GM has 80 manufacturing facilities in the United States, including car and truck plants, engine and transmission plants, metal stamping factories and parts warehouses.

Talks broke down because of the automaker's refusal to guarantee job security and address other concerns, including wages and health care.

The strike may be short lived, however. Gettelfinger said that the UAW is going "right back" to the bargaining table.

"We're ready to go in and wrap this strike up and conclude negotiations," he said, adding that he expects GM will now move more "expeditiously."

The UAW wants assurance of future production at U.S. manufacturing plants.

But the Detroit Three — GM, Ford and Chrysler – have threatened to close plants and cut jobs to try to stay afloat.

Union officials aren't swayed. They chided auto executives for claiming their businesses as struggling while they shore up their personal finances without very little regard for the well-being of workers.

"In 2007, company executives continued to award themselves bonuses while demanding that our members accept a reduced standard of living," UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, the chief GM negotiator, has said.

The walkout came after the union and GM were believed to have reached an agreement last week on the framework for a health-care trust that would assume responsibility for a $55 billion liability covering GM workers, retirees, and their families.

The health care trust, called a Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) is GM's main demand in the negotiations.

The union is holding out for job guarantees for the GM's 73,000-strong workforce — which is now just a fifth as large at it was as recently as 1990.

GM, in a statement, said it was focusing its efforts "on reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

A tentative contract would have to be approved by GM workers.

Any deal would also set benefit terms for almost 339,000 GM retirees and their surviving spouses, and set a benchmark for still pending negotiations between the union and Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.