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Glum future? Strikers leave SUVs half-finished

With determination, and plenty of concern, General Motors workers walked off the job Monday in a bid to secure jobs and benefits.
Strike by United Auto Workers against General Motor Corp
GM workers picket outside an assembly plant in Ohio as their union, the United Auto Workers, launched a national strike against GM Corp. after the UAW strike deadline passed. Most say they hope to return to their jobs soon — but many also say they'll wait until their jobs are protected.David Maxwell / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

With determination, and plenty of concern, General Motors workers walked off the job Monday in a bid to secure jobs and benefits.

From Lordstown to Janesville, Wis., to Ypsilanti, Mich., and 77 other U.S. facilities 73,000 unionized workers at the nation's largest automaker went on the first nationwide strike the industry has seen since 1976, when Gerald Ford was president.

Many of them said they were willing to sacrifice their pay to protect their health benefits and gain some job security. In an economy that's showing signs of slowing down, most of them were hoping they won't be out of work very long.

Vincent Quijano was not reluctant at all on a sick day to join his co-workers when they marched off the job Monday morning at a GM assembly and metal fabricating plants in Lordstown that makes Chevrolet Cobalts and Pontiac G5s.

Quijano, a 29-year employee who works in fabrication, said going on strike was a tough choice, but one he and others were determined to make.

"Nobody wants a strike, neither the company nor the union," Quijano said, echoing what striking United Auto Workers said outside GM plants around the country. "We want to get back to work and make cars. That's how we make money. But we have to do what we have to do."

Manufacturing stopped with half-finished sport utility vehicles left behind on a production line at GM's assembly plant in Janesville, Wis.

Pipefitter Steve Hamilton said he was worried about supporting his two young children on just his wife's salary. "I just want it to be short," he said.

Others were willing to sit out as long as needed to protect their jobs and benefits.

"It's time for the union to slap GM for a little bit," said Larry Allen, who works in the paint shop in Janesville. "We're prepared to do whatever it takes."

Workers said the weekly strike pay, about $200 if the strike lasts more than eight days, won't go far.

"It pays for your groceries," said Mark Wolf, an assembly line worker in Ypsilanti, Mich., who has two teenage children.

"In six to eight weeks when my savings account is dwindling down, I'll be more concerned," he said. "But we've been planning for this."

The union had more than $800 million in the strike fund as of last November, according to the UAW's Web site.

Workers in Spring Hill, Tenn., already were reeling from a huge layoff in April that put almost half of the plant's 4,700 workers out of a job for 18 months while the former Saturn plant is retooled to make other GM vehicles.

"We didn't exactly have people jumping up and down to go on strike, but we trust our leaders we have in Detroit will negotiate a good deal," said Tim Stannard, a local union official.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said that job security was the top unresolved issue.

"Whatever it takes to get what we got to have in order to maintain our way of living — that's what we got to do," said Mark Campbell, who has worked for several GM plants, including the one in Arlington, Texas, for the past year. "We can't just give up."

Enrique Flores Jr., the UAW leader for the Arlington assembly plant, said the strike was a last resort.

"If jobs like ours go away, so does that money" that helps local economies, he said. "So we're not fighting just for ourselves. We are fighting for our communities."

In Ohio, auto workers walked in picket lines outside GM plants in Lordstown and Parma in northeast Ohio, in Defiance and Toledo in northwest Ohio, and in Ontario near Mansfield in central Ohio. Workers also went on strike at a service and parts site in West Chester near Cincinnati and an AC Delco site in Groveport near Columbus.

Passing vehicles honked in support of the pickets — about six to 12 were at each of the Lordstown complex's 12 gates in the first hours of the strike.

Dave Green, president of a UAW local at Lordstown, said the mood was mixed when the strike began. "A lot of them are anxious, nervous and just concerned about the future," he said.