UAW strikes v. GM adding up

Members of a United Auto Workers union local went on strike Monday at General Motors' Fairfax facility — a plant that churns out GM's popular Malibu sedan. Employees at the plant, which has more than 2,500 UAW members, began streaming out around 9 a.m. to picket in the median of the road.

The strike hits a key GM product — the Malibu, a medium-sized sedan that was named "Car of the Year" at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit — at a time when the company can ill afford it. This past week, GM announced that it lost $3.3 billion in the first quarter due largely to one-time charges and North American losses that offset gains in the rest of the world.

With truck and sport-utility vehicle sales dropping, the redesigned 2008 Malibu built at Fairfax has been a bright spot for GM.

From January through April, GM had sold 58,126 Malibus, up 32 percent from the same period last year. Sales were up 55 percent in April.

A strike will crimp production and could hurt GM's profits, although the company makes the Malibu at another factory in Orion Township, Mich., where workers have approved a local contract.

GM spokesman Dan Flores in Detroit said the company is disappointed that the union chose to walk out and said GM will look at boosting Malibu production at the Orion plant

"As a result of the strike we will be looking at all of our options, but our main focus is to continue the bargaining and reach an agreement as soon as we can," he said.

Jeff Manning, president of the local, said the issue at Fairfax is that GM wanted to place workers in jobs on the line regardless of seniority.

"We will not go back without a seniority agreement," Manning said.

A GM plant at Delta Township near Lansing that makes strong-selling crossover vehicles went on strike April 17, and other UAW locals in Wyoming and Warren, Mich., and Mansfield, Ohio, are negotiating. They say the will give GM 12-hour notice if they plan to strike.

Industry analysts have speculated that the UAW is trying to pressure GM to coax American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. into ending a bitter nine-week strike. GM accounts for 80 percent of American Axle's business. About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants have been on strike since Feb. 26.

But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said disputes with GM are about local issues, not American Axle.

Chester Massbenburg, of Lenexa, Kan., has worked at the Fairfax plant for 31 years and said he was frustrated that the plant stood alone in the strike and that "we have to stand up for our rights. This is a good company, but sometimes you have to go through these things to get what you deserve."


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