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UAW, GM still far apart in talks

Union spokesman says sides have agreed to ‘2 percent’ of contract

DETROIT — More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers went on strike Monday against General Motors, bringing more than 50 factories and parts warehouses to a standstill in the union’s first walkout against the No. 1 U.S. automaker in over a decade.

Workers left factories and formed picket lines, including former UAW Local 1112 members at the idled Lords-town GM assembly complex, shortly after midnight in the dispute over a new four-year contract. The union’s top negotiator said in a letter to the company that the strike could have been averted had the company made its latest offer sooner.

The letter dated Sunday suggests GM and union are not as far apart as the rhetoric leading up to the strike had indicated. Negotiations continued Monday in Detroit after breaking off during the weekend.

But union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said the two sides have come to terms on only 2 percent of the contract. “We’ve got 98 percent to go,” he said Monday.

Asked about federal mediation, President Donald Trump, said it’s possible if the company and union want it.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to work out the GM strike quickly,” Trump said before leaving the White House for New Mexico. “Hopefully, they’re going to work it out quickly and solidly.”

Back in Lordstown, pickets remained strong Monday outside the plant where production of the Chevrolet Cruze ended March 6. The plant was first to close among several GM has plans to idle.

Local 1112 members and retirees met shortly after midnight Monday in a show of solidarity for the strike, and they intend to remain there in four-hour shifts throughout its course.

Wall Street did not like seeing the union picketers. GM shares closed Monday down 4.2 percent to $37.21.

On the picket line Monday at GM’s transmission plant in Toledo, workers who said they have been with the company for more than 30 years were concerned for younger colleagues who are making less money under GM’s two-tier wage scale and have fewer benefits.

Paul Kane, from South Lyon, Michigan, a 42-year GM employee, said much of what the union is fighting for will not affect him.

“It’s not right when you’re working next to someone, doing the same job and they’re making a lot more money,” he said. “They should be making the same as me. They’ve got families to support.”

Kane said GM workers gave up pay raises and made other concessions to keep GM afloat during its 2009 trip through bankruptcy protection.

“Now it’s their turn to pay us back,” he said. “That was the promise they gave.”

UAW Vice President Terry Dittes told GM that the company’s latest offer might have made it possible to reach an agreement if it had come earlier.

“We are disappointed that the company waited until just two hours before the contract expired to make what we regard as its first serious offer,” Dittes wrote in the letter to Scott Sandefur, GM’s vice president of labor relations.

There are many important items left in the talks, including wage increases, pay for new hires, job security, profit sharing and treatment of temporary workers, Dittes wrote. “We are willing to meet as frequently, and for as long as it takes, to reach an agreement that treats our members fairly,” the letter said.

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