Monday, March 17, 2008

Further UAW-American Axle talks held

The United Auto Workers union and parts supplier American Axle held further talks Friday but a work stoppage over wages and benefits appeared headed into its third week.

Negotiators met as police briefly arrested two people Friday outside the company's Detroit headquarters on disorderly conduct charges.

American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Renee Rogers said bargaining took place Friday but she said she did not know if full negotiating teams were present for both sides. Only the lead bargainers for both sides met on Thursday, she said.

Rogers also did not know if any progress had been made before talks broke off Friday afternoon. Negotiations will resume Saturday, she said.

A message was left for UAW spokesman Roger Kerson.

About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York left their jobs for the picket lines on Feb. 26.

The resulting parts shortage forced General Motors Corp. to close all or part of 28 plants, affecting more than 37,000 hourly workers.

American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars for GM, Chrysler LLC and other automakers. GM accounts for about 80 percent of American Axle's business, while Chrysler accounts for 10 percent and other automakers make up the rest.

American Axle parts go into GM's full-sized pickup trucks as well as its large sport utility vehicles and vans. The company and dealers say they still have plenty of inventory of the vehicles, and the strike so far has not affected sales.

Detroit police said on Friday they responded to reports that an entrance to an American Axle plant was being blocked.

Sgt. Eren Stephens Bell said officers arrested two people who were part of a demonstration by striking workers. They were given tickets for disorderly conduct and released, she said. Their names were not immediately released and it is not immediately known if they were American Axle employees.

Rogers said the picketers were stopping trucks from either entering or leaving the plant with parts for the company's customers.

American Axle, formed from parts plants sold by GM in 1994, says its hourly manufacturing labor cost is $73.48 in wages and benefits, three times the rate at its U.S. competitors. American Axle wants to cut that to $20 to $30 an hour, which would be similar to the agreements reached between the UAW and the in-house axle-making operations at Ford and Chrysler as well other parts suppliers.

Local union officials say workers make far less than $73.48 per hour, and that figure includes retiree health care and other costs that shouldn't be added in.


Associated Press Writer David Runk contributed to this report.

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