lockport picket

A group of picketers make their presence known in front of the General Motors Lockport plant joining more than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers who walked off General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines early Monday as contract talks with the company deteriorated into a strike.

Production at General Motors' Lockport and Tonawanda plants ground to a halt Monday as more than 2,600 workers went on strike following the company's failure to forge a new contract with United Auto Workers leadership.

The entire hourly workforce at both plants — 1,293 in Lockport and 1,356 at Tonawanda — took part in the strike, joining nearly 50,000 GM workers across the country who refused to work Monday. The strike has shut down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states, as well as 22 parts distribution warehouses.

Only a few hundred salaried employees at both local plants remained on the job Monday.

The strike began at 12 a.m. Monday after UAW and GM failed to reach a deal on a new four-year contract; the previous contract expired at midnight Sept. 14.

UAW leadership says they were dissatisfied with the auto manufacturer's offered wages and health benefits. UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said union-members are also pushing for protections for longtime GM employees who are still considered temporary workers.

“We have some very unique issues when it comes to skilled trades and temporary workers that have been in the plants for some three or four years, and ... are still not GM employees," Dittes said in a television interview with MSNBC. "They are still on the status of temporary. That fight is something that we will continue to work on, as well as wages and job security and benefits.”

UAW Region 9, which encompasses central and Western New York, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

However, several employees picketing outside GM Tonawanda said in interviews that health care, temporary workers and recent closures of GM plants are their top concerns.

"We have temps here that have been temps for five years or more," said electrician Ken O'Keefe. "They're still working for a (much) lower wage."

"They want us to pay a percentage of the health care, which is, in our perspective, not very fair," said Nick Ciraolo, an officer of UAW Local 774. "We'll wind up paying and paying, and we don't really have a way to control that."

Several picketers outside GM Lockport declined to comment.

GM said its offer to UAW included pay raises for all four years, a one-time "ratification payment" of $8,000, a better profit sharing formula and retention of its health care benefits.

The company also offered to invest $7 billion in its facilities and retain 5,400 workers, according to GM.

“We presented a strong offer that improves wages, benefits and grows U.S. jobs in substantive ways and it is disappointing that the UAW leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight," GM said in a statement. "We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business.”

According to the Associated Press, the union wants profit sharing in the form of pay raises, while GM wants to pay lump sums tied to company earnings. UAW also wants GM to manufacture new products at four plants that are slated to close, AP reported.

It's the UAW's first strike since a brief walkout in 2007.

A letter to members of UAW Local 686, which represents Lockport plant workers, states production would stop if a deal was not reached on the expiring contract, though some employees would remain on the job to shut down equipment. The letter also notes dues-paying members will receive an unspecified amount of strike assistance pay and benefits, provided that they complete their strike "assignments."

Officials for GM and UAW have said they hope to reach a deal as soon as possible. Numerous commentators, including President Donald Trump, have urged both sides to negotiate a new contract promptly.

Kory Schuler, executive director of Niagara USA Chamber, said small businesses that do direct business with GM may face severe financial impacts within weeks if the strike drags on.

The strike eventually could have ripple effects on larger and more disparate businesses, as the GM plant is the largest employer in Lockport.

“Obviously we don’t want to see people out of work," Schuler said. "We just hope it’s resolved to the interests of all parties involved.”

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