4/12/08

UAW-American Axle strike ends week 7

American Axle & Manufacturing has presented a new contract proposal to the United Auto Workers after turning down an offer made by the union. The company was not making public details of the proposal, said American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers. Negotiations are expected to continue through the weekend, she said.

The Detroit-based auto parts supplier had rejected a union proposal this week, calling it “disappointing.” The company contended the “all-in” labor costs proposed by the UAW were “still approximately 200 percent of the market rate of [American Axle’s] competitors in the United States automotive supply industry.”

American Axle did not disclose specifics of the union’s offer, which was presented this week after the two sides resumed talks with full bargaining teams. A UAW spokesman did not return a message to comment.

American Axle repeated previous assertions that it needs substantial changes in the labor cost structure at its “original” plants, which includes its plants in the Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga. And it reiterated the risk it says those plants face absent such an agreement.

“If the UAW continues to refuse to make realistic economic proposals, [American Axle] will be forced to consider closing these facilities,” the company stated. It already idled a production plant in Buffalo late last year.

American Axle has previously said that it wants to reduce its labor costs sharply, to bring them in line with competitors like Delphi Corp. and Dana Corp. The company again said it has “no desire” to close the U.S. plants, preferring to reach a deal with the UAW.

American Axle says if the union consents to the type of labor structure the company wants, the U.S. plants will be able to bid competitively for new business and attract new investment.

The strike is in its seventh week. The UAW is gearing up for a rally in support of striking American Axle workers in Detroit next Friday. UAW Local 846, which represents workers at the Town of Tonawanda and Cheektowaga plants, invited members and supporters to sign up to travel to the rally aboard chartered buses.

“This rally will be used as the focal point of the current labor struggle in America today,” UAW Local 846 leaders said in a letter to members.

Meanwhile, Detroit newspapers reported American Axle has begun testing applicants in Michigan who responded to the company’s recent advertisements for jobs. American Axle says it ran the ads primarily to create a pool of candidates, because it expects many workers to leave via buyouts or retirement packages after a new deal is in place. But it has left open the possibility of using new hires as replacement workers.

Rogers said she did not know if the applicant testing was under way yet in the Buffalo area.

About 580 American Axle workers in the Buffalo area, including some who had been on layoff from the Buffalo plant, are on strike.

(buffalonews.com)

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