Thousands of United Auto Workers walked off the job at General Motors Corp. plants around the country Monday in the first nationwide strike against GM since 1970.
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the union launched the strike after "one-sided negotiations" failed to reach an agreement.
"It was going to be General Motors' way at the expense of the workers," Gettelfinger said. "The company walked right up to the deadline like they really didn't care."
Workers walked off the job and began picketing Monday outside GM plants after the 11 a.m. UAW strike deadline passed. The UAW has 73,000 members who work for GM at 82 U.S. facilities, including assembly and parts plants and warehouses.
Bargaining broke off Monday morning, but talks resumed in the afternoon at an office building in Detroit. Included in the negotiations was a groundbreaking provision establishing a UAW-managed trust that will administer GM's retiree health care obligations. GM pushed hard for the trust - known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA - so it could move $51 billion in unfunded retiree health costs off its books. GM has nearly 339,000 retirees and surviving spouses.
"This strike is not about the VEBA in any way shape or form," Gettelfinger said at an afternoon news conference in Detroit.
"The No. 1 issue here is job security," Gettelfinger later said, adding that the union also was fighting to preserve workers' benefits.
Gettelfinger said the union and GM's management would return to the table later Monday.
More than a thousand UAW workers streamed out of GM's Delta Township plant near Lansing at 11 a.m. UAW members were handing out picket signs that said: "UAW On Strike."
"I don't think it's a win for either side. It's too bad it's come to this, but we have given up a lot already," said Pat Haley, 50, from Dimondale, a quality control specialist who has been with GM for 31 years.
While GM has enough cars and trucks to withstand a short strike - the automaker had about a 65-day supply of cars and trucks as September began, according to Paul Taylor, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association - it still would be costly for the company.
The UAW last struck GM in 1998. In that strike, workers at two GM parts plants walked out for 54 days, costing the automaker $2.2 billion. The strike, which occurred between years when national negotiations were held, was over work rules and GM's plans to eliminate jobs.
The union also is feeling pressure. UAW membership has fallen from a high of 1.5 million active members in 1979 to around 576,000 today, and the union already has agreed to massive buyout plans and changes to retiree health care to help the automakers.