United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Saturday he thought the union had been close to a contract deal to end a strike against American Axle — until the auto parts supplier offered a proposal that included closing three plants.
Gettelfinger told WWJ-AM in Detroit that the latest proposal came as a surprise Friday. He says it included closing a facility in Cheektowaga, N.Y., in addition to two other closures that had been previously discussed, and was an "insult."
There had been hope for a settlement after General Motors Corp.'s surprise announcement Thursday that it would throw in $200 million to help end the 10-week walkout, which has crippled production of GM pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
But Gettelfinger said he hadn't wanted GM involved and noted that the new offer came on the heels of GM's proposal.
"I think it definitely made it worse, because now we're facing another closure," Gettelfinger said.
He said the union planned to remain at the bargaining table through the weekend but said: "I don't know where we're at because the company changes their position every time we turn around."
American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers told The Associated Press she couldn't comment on specifics of a proposal. She said that talks continued Saturday and that the company is still seeking a U.S. market-competitive labor agreement.
"We have consistently offered proposals significantly higher than the agreement that our competitors have, because we want to end this," Rogers said. "And they have been consistently turned down by the UAW."
GM spokesman Dan Flores declined to comment Saturday on the talks between the union and American Axle. But he said GM's $200 million offer was made with hope of helping to facilitate an agreement.
A message seeking comment was left Saturday by the AP for UAW spokesman Roger Kerson.
About 3,600 UAW members went on strike Feb. 26 at the five plants in Michigan and New York in a dispute over wage and benefit cuts the company is seeking and failing to reach a new contract agreement.
Unions members previously had said the company wanted to negotiate the closure of American Axle's Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forge operations. Gettelfinger confirmed Saturday those had been agreed upon.
Detroit-based American Axle is a small company that gets 80 percent of business from GM, its former parent. It makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars for pickup trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado, GM's top-selling vehicle.
Many of its U.S. competitors won deals from the United Auto Workers to pay newly hired workers about $14 per hour. But American Axle workers say they won't take that big of a pay cut from a company that made $37 million last year.