IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GM union OKs new contract at Kansas plant

Union members at General Motors Corp.'s Fairfax assembly plant here have approved a new contract, ending a nearly three-week-old strike.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Union members at General Motors Corp.'s Fairfax assembly plant here have approved a new contract, ending a nearly three-week-old strike.

The contract was approved by 88 percent of the skilled workers and 85 percent of the production workers who voted Wednesday, union officials said, although they declined to say how many workers voted.

About 2,500 members of United Auto Workers Local 31 walked off the job May 5 after failing to agree with plant management on a local contract. The plant makes the hot-selling Chevrolet Malibu as well as the Saturn Aura.

"We told everyone from the get-go that we were out here to retain what we had and we did that," said Jeff Manning, union president. "I'm totally relieved. I'm looking forward to a holiday weekend and not being on strike."

A few skilled workers were expected to return to the plant Wednesday evening to prepare it to return to production but most of the workers will return Thursday, union officials said.

The two sides bridged their differences Tuesday evening. While the union approved a national contract with GM last fall, local contracts that govern work rules, overtime and other items are negotiated separately at each location.

Manning said the union prevented management from ignoring workers' seniority in filling job openings at the plant and kept jobs traditionally performed within the plant from being outsourced.

The contract creates 120 new entry-level positions at the plant starting in September and also preserves or creates 30 skilled trade jobs.

GM spokesman Dan Flores said the company was "obviously pleased" that production would resume Thursday.

"Our focus is that the Malibu, the Aura are important products for us and we look forward to resuming production," he said.

The agreement also pays each union member a $1,250 "Malibu launch recognition award."

Union members who attended briefings on the agreement before the vote said they generally liked what they heard.

"It seems like it's going to be a pretty good agreement," said Tim Logsdon, who has worked at Fairfax for 30 years. "There are some things that we don't care for and some things that we do want."

Bobby Dion, who has worked for GM for 29 years and is at his fifth plant, said he was pleased with what union negotiators had accomplished.

"I'm happy that we'll be able to continue contributing to the economy," Dion said. "Hopefully this will be a benchmark for the other locals to follow."

Industry analysts have said the strike in Kansas City and at another key plant in Delta Township, Mich., were designed to force GM to help resolve a long, bitter strike by autoworkers at American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc, a parts maker and key supplier to GM.

Union officials, including UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, denied any connection and said the strikes were over local contract disputes.

The UAW and American Axle reached a tentative agreement Friday, and several locals voted Monday to approve the pact. A large local in Detroit votes Thursday.

GM kicked in about $218 million to help settle the American Axle strike.

Meanwhile, production resumed Monday in Delta Township after workers ratified a tentative agreement reached May 15.

American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars for GM's large SUVs and pickup trucks. The 12-week strike at five American Axle facilities crippled GM's production and caused thousands of layoffs at GM and other parts suppliers.

GM said it lost $800 million in the first quarter and produced 230,000 fewer vehicles due to the strike.

The Kansas City strike has hurt production of the midsize Malibu, a big bright spot for GM as it tries to catch buyers fleeing from sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks due to high gas prices. The car also is giving GM a foothold in a market long dominated by Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.

GM also makes Malibus at its plant in Orion Township, Mich. GM spokesman Tony Sapienza said he could neither confirm nor deny a report in the Detroit Free-Press Wednesday that the company was planning to add another shift to the Orion plant to build Malibus.

In the first four months of this year, GM sold 58,126 of the redesigned 2008 Malibus, up 37.2 percent from sales of the old model in the first four months of 2007.

At the end of April, just before the Kansas City strike began, GM had only a 36-day supply of Malibus, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. A 60-day supply is considered optimal in the industry. New inventory figures for May won't be available until early June.

Ray Lopez, who continued to stand on the picket line Wednesday as the voting on the new deal continued, said he would be glad to get back to work.

"We've got a great car that's selling," Lopez said. "They picked a bad time to force us to do this."