Originally created 07/20/98

Saturn workers support striking



SPRING HILL, Tenn. -- Saturn Corp. workers voted overwhelmingly to give union leaders the authority to call their first-ever strike against the automaker that prides itself for its harmonious relations with workers.

Joseph Rypkowski, president of United Auto Workers Local 1853, said 96 percent of the more than 5,000 workers who cast ballots voted for strike authorization.

Rypkowski planned to fly to Flint, Mich., on Monday to talk to UAW leaders about the vote. A strike could be called by the end of the week against the General Motors division, though negotiators were scheduled to resume talks Tuesday.

Saturn workers are concerned about possible job cuts from work being sent to other plants, sliding bonus pay and a decreasing role in management decisions.

The vote is another blow to GM, which has lost more than $1.2 billion since workers at two parts plants in Flint, Mich., walked off the job June 5. More than 100 North American plants have been affected and 186,000 workers idled.

Saturn's plant in Spring Hill is GM's only U.S. facility still turning out cars.

The vote comes four months after dissident employees forced a referendum on their unique contract with GM. Workers voted overwhelmingly to keep the "risk-and-reward" contract rather than abandon it for the contract all other UAW workers have.

Under the "risk-and-reward" pay program, Saturn employees average about 12 percent less in salary than GM's other workers but can add to their base pay by hitting certain goals.

In earlier years, annual bonuses reached $10,000 and Saturn workers made about $4,000 more than their GM counterparts. Last year, because fewer cars were made as a result of shrinking demand, it was about $4,000 less.

Now, union officials say Saturn is shortchanging workers for their second-quarter efforts this year. Officials say workers are owed a $1,400 bonus, but the company plans to pay only $390.