GM Workers Strike

First strike since 1998.

Some 73,000 workers at General Motors plants across the U.S. walked out on strike Sept. 24 after contract talks broke down over the issue of health-care costs. Holding signs that said "UAW on strike," thousands of United Auto Workers members streamed out of plants 10 days after their contract expired.

GM said it was "disappointed in the UAW's decision to call a national strike" and would "continue focusing our efforts on reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

It is the first strike at the struggling automaker's plants since 1998, when plants across North America were shuttered for 53 days, costing GM some two billion dollars.

UAW president Ron Gettelfinger issued a sharply worded statement in which he blamed the breakdown on the talks on GM, which has been seeking to reduce its labor costs to become more competitive with Asian rivals. "Since 2003, our members have made extraordinary efforts every time the company came to us with a problem: the corporate restructuring, the attrition plan, the Delphi bankruptcy, the 2005 health care agreement. In every case, our members went the extra mile to find reasonable solutions."

GM has been pressing the UAW for significant concessions, including two-tier wages and moves to make it easier to lay off workers. But the chief stumbling block was a proposed voluntary employee benefit association -- known as a VEBA --that would assume responsibility for the health-care benefits of more than 460,000 GM retirees. Union bargainers have reservations about funding the trust with blocks of company stock. "The idea of building the trust company stock in the post-Enron world just isn't workable from the union point of view," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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