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UAW Launches National Strike Against GM

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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. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

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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