Monday, March 31, 2008

American Axle Strike Update: Solidarity Grows With UAW Locals While Company Post Want Ads

Solidarity with American Axle strikers grows

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Buffalo, N.Y. and Detroit
Published Mar 27, 2008 12:51 AM

Solidarity is growing rapidly across the U.S. and beyond for the workers at American Axle, on strike at five plants in Michigan and New York.

About 3,600 workers at the plants walked out Feb. 26 against the company’s intentions to cut their pay in half, replace their pensions with a 401-k, increase health care benefit costs, and demand other outrageous concessions that are an affront to the dignity and respect of workers everywhere.

The workers now make on average about $50,000 annually—before taxes—as compared to the $10.2 million in total compensation that American Axle President Dick Dauch ripped off from the workers in 2007. Dauch is also a former chairperson of the National Association of Manufacturers. Other American Axle company executives also make millions off the backs of the workers.

The UAW went on strike charging an unfair labor practice because of the company’s refusal to open its books for bargaining purposes. American Axle is a parts maker spun off by General Motors in 1994. More than 40,000 workers at 30 GM production plants and suppliers in the U.S. and Canada are now idled.

The union—and community—make us strong!

On March 24, as the strike completed its fourth week, Local 235 and Local 262 sponsored a spirited rally and march in Hamtramck, Mich., site of American Axle’s largest production plant, where 1,900 workers labor. The two locals represent about 2,200 workers in Detroit, which surrounds the municipality of Hamtramck. The day’s events were also co-sponsored by Local 412, an amalgamated local that represents more than 5,000 union members in the Metro Detroit region.

Over 20 UAW locals from throughout Metro Detroit and Michigan, representing workers in many industries, sectors and plants, including Delphi, Dana, GM, Ford and Chrysler, came out in the hundreds to support their sisters, brothers and loved ones at American Axle. Other unions and community organizations also attended, including the Green Party, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the AFT, the Machinists and the Electrical Workers.

Dave Sole, president of UAW Local 2334, and Alan Pollock of MECAWI told Workers World about a diverse multinational rally at the local union hall, where a DJ spun and a barbecue took place, followed by a spirited march of hundreds of workers around the massive Hamtramck plant. The marchers stopped at several picket lines for speak-outs and then gathered in formation on both sides of American Axle world headquarters, singing and chanting slogans such as, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union.”

During the march a truck driver attempting to enter the plant threatened picketers with serious bodily harm while trying to drive through a moving picket line. Instead of arresting the driver, cops threatened the workers with arrest if they didn’t allow the truck through, which eventually happened.

Despite this, the workers’ mood was high. They entered their fifth week on strike March 25 vowing to fight on and win.

‘We’ve gotta keep fighting’

Terry Hannon, a member of the International Action Center—Buffalo and a retired Teamster who worked for the Buffalo News as a driver and helper for 33 years, was on the Tonawanda, N.Y., picket line March 23. He has also participated in the UAW Local 846 picket line in Cheektowaga, another industrial suburb of Buffalo.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that working people realize what’s happening in this country. The bosses are destroying our livelihoods, our jobs, and we have reached a point where we have to change our way of thinking and our tactics as far as dealing with this very, very big problem. And as a union worker and a worker for many years, I just feel we have to get out there and support these auto workers. It’s absolutely necessary,” Hannon told WW.

Caleb T. Maupin, a sophomore at Baldwin-Wallace College near Cleveland and a member of the youth organization Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST), joined Hannon at the Tonawanda line.

“Even though I’m a young person, even though I’m of Irish heritage, even though I may be queer, I’m still a worker. And that’s the primary contradiction in society today—between the workers and the bosses. I am a member of the working class. When my working-class brothers and sisters are out on the picket line, I stand and support them because we’re on their side in the struggle that’s going on. We’re going to be on their side until we win,” Maupin told WW.

Maupin added, “If this strike is won, it will strengthen the unions and open up all kinds of possibilities for my generation because the unions have always been first in the fight for things like student aid, which allows a lot of young people to attend schools, and for better education. If the working class was strong enough we could actually stop this bosses’ war that’s being waged in Iraq. But if the strike didn’t succeed, it would crush a lot of people’s desire to fight back. So that’s why we’ve gotta keep fighting.”

WW also spoke to Patrick McCarthy, vice-president of Local 846, which represents about 600 workers at the Cheektowaga machining and Tonawanda forge plants, and Marty Kuntz, the local’s financial secretary. They said the local receives daily phone calls, donations and provisions from across the country. Every day numerous union members from Metro Buffalo and beyond join their picket lines. Local 846 also has a strike support website, www.uawaam.com.

UAW Local 424 represents workers in Buffalo, N.Y., at a plant that was shut down in December 2007, before the strike. All five plants on strike are governed by a UAW master agreement with American Axle.

During week four of the strike, donations, support resolutions and provisions continue to pour into the locals. UAW members in Toledo, Ohio, brought trucks of canned goods to Detroit. Other regional union caravans are planned.

The Graduate Employee Organization—AFT, in the midst of planning its own walkout, sent a support resolution and $500 to Local 235. In Three Rivers, Mich., where about 800 members are on strike, the local union hall is packed with provisions donated from the community.

All the picket lines are joined by labor and community organizations; some have set aside specific times and days for their members to participate.

Internationally, union and other progressive Web sites and blogs in the U.S., Canada, Europe and elsewhere post frequent updates on the American Axle strike.

Send donations and support resolutions to UAW Local 235, 2140 Holbrook Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212; 313-871-1190; adrianrking@hotmail.com or billalford74@yahoo.com

Allan Pollock, Mike Shane and Dave Sole in Detroit; Caleb T. Maupin from Cleveland; and Terry Hannon from Buffalo contributed to this report.
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Monday, March 31, 2008

Axle posts help-wanted ads

Company official denies replacement workers sought; ads are for expected post-strike openings

Eric Morath
The Detroit News

American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. advertised for new hires in some newspapers Sunday -- raising questions about whether the Detroit auto supplier is seeking replacements for striking members of the United Auto Workers union who walked off the job last month.

An ad published in the classified section of the Oakland Press read in part: "Employment offered to applicants responding to this advertisement will be to fill anticipated attrition replacement openings after negotiations or in place of employees involved in this strike."

Executing a replacement strategy is unlikely because UAW workers at General Motors Corp., American Axle's former owner and largest customer, would most likely refuse to build vehicles with parts made by substitute workers, said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said the company is not seeking to hire replacement workers but is advertising to find candidates to fill jobs it anticipates will become open once the strike has ended.

"We expect once an agreement is reached, that a significant number of workers will participate in buyout and early retirement programs," Rogers said Sunday. "We are advertising in anticipation of that event and the openings that will need to be met."

Still, the advertisement "certainly raises the specter of replacement workers, no matter its true intent," Shaiken said. "This was either a strategic move by the company or a public relations blunder."

Shaiken said it's likely the company is trying to prove that hundreds would line up for the $14 per hour wages the company is asking UAW members to accept.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson could not be reached Sunday for comment. But the prospect of replacement workers has angered some union members who are planning a rally outside American Axle's headquarters today.

The typical factory worker at American Axle makes $28 per hour, plus health care and retirement benefits. New workers would likely make much less, as the union agreed to lower wages for new hires during contract negotiations four years ago. But slowing demand for the GM vehicles that use American Axle components has prevented the company from hiring many workers at the lower wages.

About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York walked off their jobs Feb. 26 in a dispute over wages and benefits.

The action has forced GM to fully or partly shut down 29 plants in the U.S. and Canada, and a Detroit plant that makes big sedans is expected to be shut down as of today. Numerous other suppliers have had to shut factories and lay off workers. A recent report estimates the strike has put as many as 40,000 out of work at related companies and is hampering the U.S. economy.

Although there have been discussions between top bargainers, full negotiating teams for both sides haven't met since March 10. Rogers said no new information on the talks was available Sunday.

American Axle this weekend recalled some of its laid off workers in the Buffalo area. Those workers, however, will likely join their colleagues on the picket lines shortly, just as UAW members in Detroit did after the company ended a temporary layoff in the strike's first days.

The company's posturing won't distract the union members from their goal -- minimizing labor give backs to a profitable company, said striking American Axle worker David LeGrone. "I can't get caught up in this propaganda," he said. "I'm just prepared to stay on the picket line as long as it takes to make sure we get a fair shake out of this deal."

Detroit News wire services contributed to this report. You can reach Eric Morath at (313) 222-2504 or emorath@detnews.com.

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