Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The American Axle dispute could affect up to 2,000 workers here.


A strike at a Detroit parts plant is threatening to idle more than 2,000 London-area workers.

American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. supplies parts to Presstran and Formet in St. Thomas. Those plants may be shut down within two weeks if the strike drags on.

"If the axle strike continues we will be forced to have a layoff," Tracy Fuerst, director of corporate communications with Magna, said yesterday. "We are taking it day by day, but it will happen within two weeks if it continues. That is the timing."

But the good news is that negotiators for the United Auto Workers and American Axle returned to the bargaining table yesterday after a full weekend of bargaining.

"We are just hoping the two sides come to an agreement soon," Fuerst said.

About 3,600 UAW workers at five Michigan and New York American Axle plants, which make axles, driveshafts and stabilizer bars, have been on strike since Feb. 26.

Presstran employs 500 and Formet, also in St. Thomas, has more than 1,500 workers. Formet makes pickup truck frames and Presstran stamps underbodies for vehicles.

"Every time we lose jobs to layoff, whether short-term or not, I am concerned," said Dave Kerr, chair of the St. Thomas and District Labour Council. "It means money is being taken out of our economy. It impacts everything."

The impact may also widen throughout London as several parts plants supply General Motors, which accounts for nearly 80 per cent of American Axle's business. The London and area plants that sell to GM include Magee Reiter, Copperweld, Intier Automotive Inc., TDS Automotive, Thyssen-krupp Budd Systems and Amino, also in St. Thomas.

GM has said parts shortages from the strike -- mainly for GM's pickup trucks, large sport utility vehicles and vans -- are forcing it to shut down part or all of 28 plants, affecting 37,000 hourly workers, including its plant in St. Catharines.

The strike also could affect Chrysler. American Axle makes components for Dodge Durango, Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Ram vehicles.

The UAW has said American Axle is demanding wage reductions of up to $14 an hour and elimination of future retiree and pension benefits. The company says the union should agree to the same wage concessions it has with other suppliers and automakers.

It wants wages and benefits cut from $73.48 an hour to $20 to $30 an hour, and also said its original U.S. locations have lost money for three years.

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