September 16, 2019 / 1:36 PM / a month ago

GM, UAW restart talks as workers take to picket lines

DETROIT, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Negotiators for General Motors Co and the United Auto Workers are scheduled to restart bargaining Monday to resolve a strike that shut down the automaker’s highly profitable U.S. operations.

The UAW on Sunday launched the first company-wide strike at GM in 12 years, saying negotiations toward a new national agreement covering about 48,000 hourly workers had hit an impasse.

Workers took to picket lines outside GM factories, waving signs declaring “UAW On Strike.” During the walkout, UAW members will get $250 a week from the union’s strike fund.

The UAW and GM said talks would resume at 10 A.M (1400 GMT) Monday.

The strike quickly became a political issue, as both U.S. President Donald Trump and Democrats who want to unseat him in 2020 weighed in. Trump and Democrats see the votes of UAW members in the Midwest as critical to victory.

Trump on Sunday took to Twitter to urge the UAW and GM to “get together and make a deal!”. GM spokesman Tony Cervone said the automaker “couldn’t agree more” with Trump’s call.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra met with Trump ahead of the strike deadline. Trump has attacked GM for Barra’s decision to stop building small cars at an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The state is pivotal to Trump’s re-election.

The union wants to stop GM from closing Lordstown and an assembly plant in Detroit. The UAW has said workers deserve higher pay after years of record profits for GM in North America.

GM argues the plant shutdowns are necessary responses to market shifts, and that UAW wages and benefits are expensive compared with competing non-union auto plants in southern U.S. states.

In a statement Sunday, GM outlined its offer to the union, saying the package included solutions for the Michigan and Ohio assembly plants currently lacking products, $7 billion in U.S. investment and a signing bonus of $8,000 per worker.

A person familiar with GM’s offer said the company could produce a future electric vehicle at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant that now has no future assignment.

GM could also build an electric vehicle battery plant in Lordstown, and go through with the proposed sale of the plant to a group affiliated with electric vehicle start-up Workhorse Group Inc.

A new battery plant could give some UAW workers at Lordstown the chance to remain with GM.

The UAW’s top negotiator at GM said the proposal came just two hours before the strike deadline, and laid blame for the strike on the automaker.

“Had we received this proposal earlier in the process, it may have been possible to reach a tentative agreement and avoid a strike,” UAW Vice President Terry Dittes wrote in a letter to GM on Sunday, according to a copy viewed by Reuters.

A strike will very quickly shut down GM’s operations across North America and could hurt the broader U.S. economy. Prolonged industrial action would also cause hardship for GM hourly workers on greatly reduced strike pay. Suppliers of parts and services to GM’s U.S. operations could also suffer from a long shutdown, as could dealers and consumers. (Reporting by Nick Carey, David Shepardson, Ben Klayman and Joseph White; Writing by Nick Carey and Joseph White; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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