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Published: Tuesday, 5/6/2008

American Axle strike putting squeeze on Ohio autoworkers, suppliers

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DAYTON, Ohio Autoworkers and suppliers are fixing up their homes, worrying about health care coverage and frequenting food pantries as they wait for an end to the 2-month-old strike against a Michigan auto parts supplier that has idled them or cut into their business.

Linda Crouch-Roepken, associate executive director of The Foodbank, said the strike has raised demand and lowered donations. She said the hardest hit food pantries have been AFL-CIO satellite sites, including one spot where 300 people picked up food a recent day.

"We have been able to address the need, but it has been a strain on the entire network," Crouch-Roepken said.

The United Auto Workers went on strike against Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. on Feb. 26 in a wage and benefit dispute. American Axle makes axles, drive shafts and stabilizer bars mainly for large General Motors Corp. sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

The strike has affected about 30 GM plants. The GM truck plant in suburban Moraine halted production March 3. Production at the nearby GM-Isuzu DMAX truck engine plant has been affected as well.

The AFL-CIO opened several food pantries to help hundreds of families stretch their food dollars. The union tries to keep the shelves stocked with jars of peanut butter, sacks of potatoes, cans of soup, stew, pork and beans and other food.

Rick Tincher knew there was a problem when the AFL-CIO's main food pantry temporarily ran out recently.

"It was chaotic," recalled Tincher, AFL-CIO labor liaison to the United Way of the Greater Dayton Area. "It was a fire sale. It was the alarm bell going off."

Tincher said the number of meals the pantry has packed for needy families has soared from 3,780 in February to 10,305 in March to 40,290 in April.

The strike has had other effects on the lives of GM workers and suppliers.

For Tracy Merritt, who works at GM's truck assembly plant in Moraine, this is the first time he has collected unemployment insurance since 1983.

The 47-year-old has spent the past two months finishing household projects, such as remodeling the bathroom of his 80-year-old two-story home. But this isn't a vacation, as far as he's concerned.

"I'd rather be working," Merritt said.

James Dakin, a driver for Hogan Transportation, had been driving 2,600 to 3,000 miles a week, in part because he would travel to North Charleston, S.C., to pick up electrical wiring kits for the engine plant and deliver them to a warehouse in Dayton.

Since the strike, his mileage has fallen to about 1,200 miles a week.

"That's coming out of my check now," said the 47-year-old Waynesville man.

The strike has interrupted the supply of auto ceiling headliners and seat systems to the GM truck plant from Johnson Controls in suburban West Carrollton. That leaves workers like Tom Schroeder, 72, of Xenia, in a tough spot.

Schroeder is worried about the possibility of losing company health care if the strike hasn't ended by May 31. He estimates he is getting about half of his typical take-home pay.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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