- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

Autoworkers at General Motors went on strike nationwide today after talks between the automotive giant and the United Auto Workers union on a new labor contract broke down.

It is the first nationwide autoworkers strike since 1976.

Health care costs are a sticking point in the negotiations; GM wants to cut rising labor and health care costs, and the union is determined to protect pay and benefits of the 73,000 members at GM’s 82 plants and warehouses.

The UAW has been trying to set up a union-controlled health care trust fund, which could free GM, Ford and Chrysler from roughly $95 billion in long-term liabilities. That deal would require a large cash payment from the automakers to fund the trust, and the two sides have not found common ground on the size of that payment.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers — GM, Ford and Chrysler — combined for $15 billion in losses last year.

Autoworkers were off the job for 67 days when they struck in 1976. The union has conducted plant-by-plant strikes in the years since. In 1998, GM vehicle output was shut down nationwide by local strikes at the Flint Metal Center and a Delphi parts plant in Flint. The shutdown stopped GM’s North American production for 53 days and cost the company $2 billion.

“We’re shocked and disappointed that General Motors has failed to recognize and appreciate what our membership has contributed during the past four years,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said.

GM officials said they were “disappointed” in the UAW’s decision to call a strike.

“The bargaining involves complex, difficult issues that affect the job security of our U.S. work force and the long-term viability of the company. We are fully committed to working with the UAW to develop solutions together to address the competitive challenges facing General Motors,” the company said on its Web site.

“We will continue focusing our efforts on reaching an agreement as soon as possible.

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