Friday, April 18, 2008

Workers Walk Off Job at Lansing GM Assembly Plant

Workers Walk Off Job at Lansing GM Assembly Plant

By Sharon Terlep

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Lansing - United Auto Workers walked off the job at General Motors Corp.'s Delta Township plant when a 10 a.m. deadline passed with no deal on a local contract.

The walkout started at about 10:15 a.m. with dozens of vehicles streaming out of plant gates. Some workers picketed the plant with signs as passing motorists signaled support.

UAW officials have not specified the local contract issues in dispute. In addition to the overarching UAW contract reached last fall with Detroit's Big Three automakers, most UAW locals are still negotiating plant-level deals.

Doug Rademacher, president of UAW Local 602, which represents workers at the Lansing plant, said talks have broken off and that he didn't know when they will resume.

He dismissed speculation that the strike is part of a UAW strategy to draw GM into the lengthy labor dispute with partsmaker American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. The UAW walked off the job at American Axle plans Feb. 26.

Rademacher said workers at the Delta plant have been working under a contract put in place in 1999 when GM built the factory. The contract, he said, was intended to give GM flexibility to get the factory running, but was never supposed to be a long-term labor agreement. The UAW planned to get a plant-level contract in place for Delta after last fall's national negotiations, he said.

This workforce deserves respect," he said. "We changed our culture to work with the company. We need a local agreement."

The Delta plant is critical for GM because it builds the automaker's popular crossovers, the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave.

"We are disappointed that UAW Local 602 has taken strike action," GM spokesman Dan Flores said. "We remain focused on reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

In addition to GM strike, production could be halted by a UAW strike at a small supplier that produces carpeting for the crossover SUVs built at the plant.

About 90 workers at Lansing-based Alliance Interiors went on strike Tuesday because they have no labor contract and have been trying to secure one for almost a year.

A parts shortage from that stoppage forced GM on Wednesday to cut shifts short at the plant.

Another GM local in Warren has threatened to strike GM by 10 a.m. Friday if there's no plant level contract by then.

The Lansing strike is taking place in a town where the UAW and community have a long history of working with well with GM. The automaker opted to build the Delta plant, its first new factory in years, after a massive local campaign by local community leaders. As part of the deal, the union agreed to adopt flexible, money-saving work rules GM is pushing at all its plants.

Several workers interviewed as they walked off the job at GM said they were told by local union leaders that a strike was called because dozens of local contract issues are unresolved after months of negotiations.

Many said that while they support the union's decision to strike, they question the timing. If the plant were idled by the Alliance strike, workers would receive layoff pay.

Now, they'll get much less in strike compensation.

"I don't want to be on strike," said worker Duane McClung. "And it's really not quite clear why we're striking."

Worker Dean Betcher said he believes the union did it's best to resolve issues with GM. But, he said, he would have preferred the UAW waited to see if workers were laid off instead.

"I'd prefer that to a strike," he said.

Even amid the tension and questions, workers began to rally a show of support for the UAW. Some drivers honked at leaving workers and shouted encouragement. Other began to hand out "UAW on Strike" picket signs.

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