Originally created 06/19/97

GM, UAW continue contract talks



DETROIT (AP) - As a strike at a General Motors Corp. assembly plant entered its ninth week Wednesday, negotiators searched for a compromise on union demands for more workers.

GM and the United Auto Workers also resumed talks to avert a threatened strike at a sheet-metal plant near Grand Rapids, Mich. The UAW has extended its strike deadline hourly since Friday as negotiations have continued.

At the automaker's Pontiac East pickup-truck plant near Detroit, about 5,900 workers have been on strike since April 22. The union wants GM to hire hundreds more workers to reduce overtime, but GM says it will need fewer assembly workers after the plant is retooled for its next generation of full-time pickups.

Sources close to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said slow progress was being made but that no deal was imminent.

GM's other plants producing full-size Chevrolet and GMC pickups have been working overtime to partly offset the lost production at Pontiac.

The UAW is hoping to reach a tentative deal before GM's two-week, company-wide summer vacation begins June 28. If the workers are still on strike then, they will forfeit their $850-a-week vacation pay in lieu of $150-a-week strike pay.

"The negotiations have picked up," said GM spokesman Dan Flores. "We're pleased with that, but I wouldn't want to indicate whether they've been positive or negative."

The Grand Rapids plant, with 2,340 workers, makes sheet-metal body panels for several cars and trucks, including the hot-selling Pontiac Grand Prix and some GM trucks.

The UAW had threatened to strike there last Friday, but opted to extend the deadline as progress was being made in the talks. A strike could force GM to shut down six or seven assembly plants, said Sean McAlinden, an industry researcher at the University of Michigan.

Grand Rapids' production workers rejected an earlier deal twice.

GM has signed two tentative agreements at other parts plants in the past week. It reached a deal Tuesday at a catalytic converter plant near Milwaukee and signed an agreement Friday for a foundry at Saginaw, Mich. The UAW had threatened to strike both plants.

A ratification vote on the Saginaw pact was being held Wednesday.

If the Grand Rapids and Pontiac disputes are settled, GM could still face labor problems elsewhere. The automaker has to negotiate about 18 other local contracts that expired in September.