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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2008

UAW chief unhappy with American Axle talks

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DETROIT - The president of the United Auto Workers said last night that he is optimistic the union can settle several contracts in Michigan with General Motors Corp.

But Ron Gettelfinger wasn't as hopeful when it came to an eight-week strike at parts maker American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc.

Mr. Gettelfinger said before speaking to a Detroit-area Democratic Party dinner that American Axle isn't negotiating much.

About 3,600 workers at five American Axle plants have been on strike since Feb. 26.

"I would hope we could resolve Axle, but we cannot negotiate an agreement with ourselves," he said before a speech to Livingston County Democrats. "It seems like it's all give on our side."

The UAW also is on strike at a GM plant near Lansing that makes hot-selling crossover vehicles, and it has threatened to strike Tuesday at a plant in Kansas City, Kan., that builds the popular new Chevrolet Malibu sedan.

Both plants have unresolved local contracts, which govern overtime, assembly line speed, staffing, and other issues not covered by the national contract signed last year.

"I'm hopeful we can get GM resolved," Mr. Gettelfinger said.

Negotiations were continuing through the weekend at the GM plants, but recessed yesterday until next week at American Axle.

The parts supplier makes axles, stabilizer bars, drive shafts, and other components. GM makes up 80 percent of its business.

The American Axle strike has hampered production at about 30 GM factories in the United States and Canada, mainly those that make components for and assemble pickup trucks and large sport utility vehicles.

Mr. Gettelfinger said American Axle Chairman and CEO Richard Dauch made $258 million from 1997 through 2007, but wants workers to work for nothing.

"They use the word competitive until they wear it out, but are they competitive with their own salaries?" he asked.

American Axle has said in the past that Mr. Dauch took risks to start the company at some former GM facilities.

A message was left for company spokesman Renee Rogers.

GM spokesman Dan Flores said yesterday that the company hopes to end the disputes soon.

American Axle has said its U.S. hourly labor cost of about $73 per worker, including fringe benefits, is three times the rate at its domestic competitors and too high for it to win new business.



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