Gettlefinger stymied by UAW-AAM strike failure

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Negotiations to end the nearly 11 week-long American Axle strike have broken down, as the company is now proposing to close a third plant, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettlefinger said Saturday. Gettlefinger, in an interview with WWJ radio, called the proposal to close a Cheektowaga, N.Y., plant an "insult" and said it came out of left field.

"If the company continues down this road, it's going to make the talks increasingly more difficult," he said.

"I don't know how they can call themselves American Axle anymore. To me it's more like Axle Mexico."

Gettlefinger confirmed the union and American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. had previously agreed to close forges in Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y.

About 3,600 American Axle workers have been on strike at five plants since Feb. 26, after they refused to accept deep cuts in wages and benefits.

The latest breakdown came late Friday, a day after General Motors Corp agreed to pay up to $200 million to help end the strike by funding employee buyouts, early retirements and wage buydowns.

Gettlefinger, who said previously he didn't want GM involved, now says the automaker's assistance "definitely made it worse."

"I feared that as greedy as this group is, that when General Motors put more money in there, instead of trying to use it to resolve the negotiations, they'd try to figure a way to keep it for themselves," he said.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said she wouldn't specifically address Gettlefinger's comments or any plans to close plants.

"We have a proposal that has been considerably higher than the market cost competitive agreement that the UAW gave to our competitors, including Dana (Corp.)," she said. "We continue to work toward obtaining a settlement quickly."

Late last month, the company proposed a deal that called for workers to accept wage cuts ranging from $5 to $14 per hour, depending on position, and the shutdown of the forge plants, in exchange for $140,000 buyouts or a $90,000 buydown bonus to stay at a lower wage.

Those close to the negotiations have said the amount of those buyouts and buydowns did not increase significantly after GM offered to assist this week.

In the WWJ interview, Gettlefinger said he recognizes that the talks have been tumultuous for strikers. He said even his top negotiators were so sure the strike was close to a conclusion nearly a month ago that they canceled a major rally in Detroit's Hart Plaza.

"This negotiation is very challenging," he said. "It's been like a roller coaster ride for our members on the picket line."

Detroit-based American Axle, with sales of more than $3 billion last year, gets 80 percent of its business from GM, its former parent. It makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars for pickup trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's top-selling vehicle.

Many of its U.S. competitors won deals from the UAW to pay newly hired workers about $14 per hour. But American Axle workers say they won't take that big of a pay cut from a company that made $37 million last year.


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