UAW steps up strike prep

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 strike.
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 weekend.
At some plants, workers were more concerned about the terms of the contract than a strike.
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