UAW workers now on strike

Hot off the assembly line: an autoworker secures a SUV onto a carrier at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 17.
Hot off the assembly line: an autoworker secures a SUV onto a carrier at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas, Sept. 17.

DETROIT (AP) --   A spokesman for General Motors says the United Auto Workers union has launched a nationwide strike. Workers walked off the job and began picketing at GM plants shortly after 11 a.m.

The contract expired September 14, but the UAW had extended it for nine days until talks bogged down yesterday.

The UAW has 73,000 members who work for GM at 82 U.S. facilities. Analysts say GM has enough cars and trucks to withstand a short strike. The automaker has about a 65-day supply of cars and trucks.

The UAW last struck GM in 1998. Workers at two GM parts plants walked out for 54 days. That strike cost the automaker $2.2 billion. It was over work rules and GM's plans to eliminate jobs. The UAW had set a deadline of Monday morning to strike General Motors Corp. if a new contract was not reached, even as the two sides continued bargaining late Sunday night, according to a local union Web site.

The deadline to reach an agreement was set for 11 a.m. EDT Monday, according to a posting on the Web site of UAW Local 160. As the 11:00 deadline passed, 1500 workers at the GM PowerTrain Facility in Defiance walked out to begin picket lines.

Talks were continuing as of 11 p.m. EDT, GM spokesman Dan Flores said. GM said in a statement Sunday night that it is working with the union to resolve issues. "The contract talks involve complex, difficult issues that affect the job security of our U.S. workforce and the long-term viability of the company," said the statement, which was posted on a GM Web site. "We are fully committed to working with the UAW to develop solutions together to address the competitive challenges facing General Motors. We will continue focusing our efforts on reaching an agreement as soon as possible."

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said as recently as Friday that the union was trying to speed up negotiations and reach an agreement without a strike. The union may be trying to ratchet up the pressure on GM to get a deal done. The UAW's contract with GM was set to expire Sept. 14, but the union has been extending it on an hour-by-hour basis since then.

A local UAW official said earlier Sunday that negotiators have wrapped up work on most issues and were determining how much money GM must put into a trust fund for retiree health care that will be managed by the UAW. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

The health care fund -- known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA -- would be a groundbreaking change for the auto industry and has been the major issue in this year's negotiations. GM has around $51 billion in unfunded retiree health care costs but the company isn't required to put the full amount into the VEBA.

The UAW and GM have been wrangling over how much GM should put in and how much can be paid in cash or in stock. The UAW picked GM as the lead company and potential strike target in the negotiations, which began in July.

Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC have indefinitely extended their contracts with the union. GM, which has about 339,000 UAW retirees and spouses, badly wants to pay the union to form the VEBA to get the health care liabilities off its books.

In exchange, the UAW has sought production guarantees at U.S. plants. The UAW represents 73,000 GM workers at 82 U.S. facilities nationwide. If a tentative agreement is reached, local union leaders will meet for a briefing and then present it to their members.

Any agreement would have to be ratified by a majority of GM's UAW members. Count on News 11 and to follow this story as it develops. Updated by LS The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.