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GM, Union Get Back to Bargaining Table

Bargainers for General Motors and the United Auto Workers resumed contract negotiations Monday amid optimism that they are getting closer to reaching a critical contract agreement.

A Chevrolet dealership in Loveland, Colorado.
David Zalubowski
A Chevrolet dealership in Loveland, Colorado.

Negotiations resumed about 11 a.m. Eastern, GM spokesman Dan Flores said. The talks had stopped about 3 a.m. after a marathon 16-hour session.

Thousands of UAW-represented GM workers were on the job Monday morning at the automaker's 82 U.S. facilities, including assembly and parts plants and parts warehouses, Flores said.

GM's four-year contract with the UAW was to expire at midnight Friday, but the union extended it on an hour-by-hour basis.

GM shares rose almost 2 percent Monday, and Ford shares also were higher.

Several local union leaders said Sunday that negotiators reported the talks were advancing. The leaders, some of whom asked not to be identified because of the confidential nature of the talks, said they were told by UAW leadership in Detroit that if no agreement was reached Sunday then the union would go on strike.

But as the talks continued into Monday morning, the strike threat seemed to wane.

A UAW local in Arlington, Texas, told its members to report to work as scheduled Monday but said it was committed to a strike if necessary.

"We understand the issues are complex and the effects far-reaching," local president Enrique Flores Jr. and shop chairman Dwayne Humphries said in a joint statement sent Sunday to union members and the media. "Solutions are certainly proving to be difficult."

A message on a hotline at UAW Local 22 in Flint had also told workers to report to work as scheduled Monday. The message said to ignore sign-up sheets for strike duty, a sign that a walkout wasn't imminent.

UAW Local 735 President Chuck Rogers told his members Sunday that the UAW came within minutes of striking Friday night when President Ron Gettelfinger walked out of a bargaining room after getting into a dispute with GM negotiators. But GM Chief Financial Officer Fritz Henderson intervened and brought Gettelfinger back to the bargaining table, and progress has been made since then, Rogers said.

Strike talk often is heard when negotiations get close to or pass the contract expiration deadline.

"I heard things are moving kind of in the right direction," Dave Green, president of one of two locals at the Lordstown, Ohio, plant that makes small cars for Chevrolet and Pontiac, said Sunday.

Bargainers also worked all day Saturday.

Messages were left for UAW spokesman Roger Kerson, but were not returned.

One of the local union leaders who asked not to be identified said the main outstanding issues were retiree health care expenses and whether GM would promise to build new vehicles at UAW-represented factories. GM wants the union to take over responsibility for retiree health care costs using a company-funded trust. The UAW was asking for job guarantees in exchange for taking on the costs.

GM, Ford Motor and Chrysler have a combined unfunded retiree health care obligation of more than $90 billion. GM's unfunded obligation alone is $51 billion.

The local official said he was told Sunday that bargainers had moved closer on funding the health care trust, but were still apart on job security guarantees for factories.

The union named GM as the lead company and potential strike target Thursday, then extended contracts with Ford and Chrysler that can be ended by either party with three days' notice. Once the union reaches an agreement with GM, it will pursue similar deals at Ford and Chrysler.

GM has about 73,000 UAW-represented hourly workers at its U.S. factories.