American Axle workers vote to end nearly 3-month strike
AP Auto Writer
American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. said Friday it expects production to resume next week after workers overwhelmingly approved a new contract with the auto parts supplier that contains steep pay cuts and other concessions.
United Auto Workers members at five American Axle sites in Michigan and New York voted 78 percent in favor of the four-year deal, while 22 percent voted against, the union said in a statement late Thursday. The UAW does not usually release vote totals.
The vote, finalized Thursday, ends a bitter strike that lasted nearly three months, crippling General Motors Corp.'s production of large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
UAW members at four sites voted overwhelmingly in favor of the contract Monday and were awaiting Thursday's vote by Local 235 in Hamtramck, which is by far the largest local in the company with 1,983 members.
"This new contract provides AAM and its UAW-represented work force the opportunity to transition through a most difficult period of structural change in the domestic automotive industry," American Axle Chairman and CEO Richard Dauch said in a statement issued Friday morning.
Erik Webb, election committee co-chairman for Local 235, said 1,172 workers at the local voted for the pact, while 479 voted against it. A contract governing local work rules and other items at the company's Detroit manufacturing plant also was approved, by a narrower margin, Webb said.
American Axle said Friday it expects to have its plants running next week. Workers on Thursday night expected the company to call in electricians and other skilled trades workers over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to prepare the plants to reopen.
"Our members have had to make some tough decisions for themselves and their families and have done so with careful deliberation," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement dated Thursday.
American Axle shares fell 55 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $18.70 in morning trading Friday.
About 3,650 UAW members have been on strike since Feb. 26 over the company's demand for lower wages to match its U.S. competitors.
American Axle has said it needs a wage structure that is competitive with other U.S. auto parts makers so it can earn new business.
Local 235 Shop Chairman Dana Edwards said union members didn't have much choice but to accept the deal.
"I think with the economy the way it is, with the truck sales the way it is, I feel that's what people thought they had to do," Edwards said.
American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars, mainly for GM's pickups and large SUVs. GM accounts for about 80 percent of its business.
The strike forced GM to cut production at or temporarily close more than 30 factories. It also caused thousands of layoffs at GM and other auto parts suppliers.
GM said it lost $800 million in the first quarter and produced 230,000 fewer vehicles due to the strike. But the strike also helped GM control its inventory, coming at a time when high gas prices and a slow economy reduced demand for trucks and SUVs.
On Friday, GM estimated the strike will cost the automaker about $1.8 billion before taxes in the second quarter.
GM spokesman Chris Lee said the automaker has a plan to bring its idled factories back on line, but he would not reveal details Thursday night.
American Axle worker Bill Johnson, 39, voted in favor of the pact, even though it cuts wages by about a third, freezes pensions and takes away other benefits.
He said workers have to be smart and spend wisely up to $105,000 the company will pay them over three years to ease the transition to lower pay.
Other workers said they voted against it.
Council Bellomy, 32, was resentful that the company has made millions yet expects production workers to take pay cuts from around $28 per hour to $18.50.
"Freeze pension, wages, health care - you name it. They took everything our fathers fought for," Bellomy said.
Workers also have the choice of taking a $55,000 early retirement incentive or up to $140,000 to leave the company.
Under the deal, American Axle will close its Detroit and Tonawanda, N.Y., forge operations.
Associated Press Writer David Runk in Detroit contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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