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GM workers approve agreement to end strike

July 28, 1997

MADISON HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) _ The 2,800 workers who threatened to shut down General Motor Corp.’s entire North American production, possibly idling tens of thousands of workers, were back on the job today.

Production resumed about 11 p.m. Sunday after 89 percent of the workers approved an agreement to end a strike that began Wednesday at the GM Powertrain Warren Transmission Plant.

The plant makes front-drive transmissions, wheels and suspension parts for all GM plants save its Saturn plant in Tennessee.

The walkout in Madison Heights, a Detroit suburb, caused four other plants to shut down _ putting a total of 19,300 GM workers out of work.

Tens of thousands of additional GM assembly workers throughout North America could have found themselves laid off within two or three weeks if the strike continued.

``We’re elated, we think that the membership is happy with what they saw and the vote total indicated that,″ United Auto Workers AW Local 909 President Al Benchich said.

GM officials said they would likely know today when the other idled plants Flint, Orion Township, Lansing and Oshawa, Ontario, will reopen.

``We believe the agreement provides the framework for meeting the needs of our employees while at the same time allows GM to continue to improve our competitive position,″ GM spokesman Darla Park said.

One of the main issues in Warren was the company’s decision to transfer production of car and truck wheels to an independent supplier. Few automakers still make their own wheels.

GM and the UAW have also been at odds over the company’s decision to cut costs by trimming the work force through attrition _ a factor in six previous strikes against GM this year.

Under the agreement reached Friday, the plant will hire 420 new employees. GM also agreed to pay $550 to each worker on the payroll before July 14 to settle grievances over outsourcing, the summary said. The company is paying more than $2 million to settle various grievances, Benchich said.

The Warren plant will continue making wheels through at least the year 2002, according to the agreement. Employees in wheel assembly also have their jobs guaranteed if work is shifted elsewhere or phased out.

``It looks like we got a decent one this time,″ wheel assembler Michael Steahl said of the agreement. ``Management’s been stepping on us.″

But the contract, which addresses issues like ice machines and hand-lotion dispensers, was not applauded by everyone.

``They’re going to buy us some hand lotion for the break area. Big deal. How about some job security?″ said worker Larry Lawhorn. ``This is all just a dog-and-pony show if you ask me.″

The Warren plant had been without a local contract since September. It was one of 10 GM plants that still lacked local agreements months after GM and the UAW signed a national labor contract last fall.

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