UAW steps up strike prep
Strike preparations are under way at General Motors Corp. plants
nationwide, a day after the United Auto Workers picked the automaker as
its lead company -- or strike target -- in contract negotiations.
The UAW is working quickly to mobilize thousands of blue-collar workers
in case the union decides to walk out at any point after tonight's 11:59
p.m. contract deadline.
The union typically begins this kind of saber-rattling as negotiations
near a climax. It doesn't necessarily indicate that a strike is imminent.
Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co. have agreed to extend their deadlines
with the UAW while talks continue with GM, though strike planning is
going on at those companies as well.
The decision to pick GM as the lead company means the automaker will be
first to forge a new labor pact with the union. But along with the
opportunity to shape what's expected to be a ground-breaking contract
comes the reality that any breakdown in bargaining will hit GM first.
Still fresh in the minds of many is the 1998 strike at two GM parts
plants that virtually shut down the automaker's North American
production and cost the company $2.2 billion.
The union has made it clear it hopes to avoid a walkout but also wants
to convey that the threat is real, said Gary Chaison, a professor of
industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.
"To avoid striking, they have to present the credible threat," Chaison
said. "It's really a game of impressing upon the other party how fervent
and unified you are. What that means to management is that this is a
union that is not going to roll over."
'The routine -- just in case'
Tension began building Thursday afternoon as union leaders at GM told
workers the company was the target, and they should start for a strike.
"My local is preparing for a possible strike," said Jerry Gillespie,
president of UAW Local 160, which represents workers at the GM Technical
Center in Warren. The local posted strike assignments on its Web site
late Thursday. "That is the routine -- just in case," he said.
Beginning this morning, the union will pass out to workers a letter from
UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, the top GM negotiator, telling them the
union and the company still have significant differences, though
progress has been made in the talks.
Workers at GM's Pontiac truck plant said UAW officials passed out
leaflets Tuesday night telling them where to report for strike
assignments and how to collect strike pay.
The handbills also said additional information would be provided if an
agreement wasn't reached by the end of today.
Workers bracing elsewhere
GM workers are not the only ones girding for a walkout.
UAW local presidents at some Ford factories received calls from the
union Thursday telling them the two sides are still far apart and
ordering them to prepare for a strike as well.
Outside Chrysler's Kokomo, Ind., transmission plant on Wednesday, a line
of blue paint cordoned off an area where workers would picket during a
Union officials at UAW Local 685 also put up sheets of paper inside the
union hall and the plant so workers could sign up for "picket duty" this
At some plants, workers were more concerned about the terms of the
contract than a strike.