By Associated Press
DETROIT — More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines early Monday as contract talks with the company deteriorated into a strike.
Workers shut down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states across the U.S., as well as 22 parts distribution warehouses.
It wasn’t clear how long the walkout would last, with the union saying GM has budged little in months of talks while GM /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -2.62% said it made substantial offers including higher wages and factory investments.
It’s the first national strike by the union since a two-day walkout in 2007 that had little impact on the company.
UAW Vice President Terry Dittes, the union’s top GM negotiator, said a strike is the union’s last resort but is needed because both sides are far apart in negotiating a new four-year contract. The union, he said Saturday, does not take a strike lightly.
“We clearly understand the hardship that it may cause,” he said. “We are standing up for fair wages, we are standing up for affordable quality health care, we are standing up for our share of the profits.”
GM, however, said it offered pay raises and $7 billion worth of U.S. factory investments resulting in 5,400 new positions, a minority of which would be filled by existing employees. GM would not give a precise number. The company also said it offered higher profit sharing, “nationally leading” health benefits and an $8,000 payment to each worker upon ratification.
Because public statements from both sides conflict, it’s hard to tell how long the strike will last, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of labor and industry at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank. The length “depends on how far apart they really are and where the lines in the sand are drawn,” she said.
Talks were scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Monday.
The union’s contract with GM expired Saturday night, but pacts with the company’s crosstown rivals, Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -1.22% and Fiat Chrysler /zigman2/quotes/204248628/composite FCAU -2.10% , were extended indefinitely. The union has picked GM as its target company this year, and any deal it negotiates will be used as a template for the others. GM was picked because it’s the most profitable of the three, and because its plans to close four U.S. factories have angered union members.
On Sunday, about 200 plant-level leaders voted unanimously to strike against GM if no deal could be reached by Sunday night. Although talks were halted over the weekend, UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said there was still dialogue.
Before the talks broke off, GM offered to build a new all-electric pickup truck at a factory in Detroit that is slated to close next year, according to a person who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The person wasn’t authorized to disclose details of the negotiations.
The automaker also offered to open an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where it has a huge factory that has already stopped making cars and will be closed. The new factory would be in addition to a proposal to make electric vehicles for a company called Workhorse, the person said.
It’s unclear how many workers the two plants would employ. The closures, especially of the Ohio plant, have become issues in the 2020 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has consistently criticized the company and demanded that Lordstown be reopened.
Rothenberg said UAW was striking fair wages, affordable health care, profit sharing, job security and a path to permanent employment for temporary workers.