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UAW workers strike General Motors

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KAI RYSSDAL: They call them deadlines for a reason — this morning, at 11 o’clock, General Motors ran up against one: 73,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off the job and onto the picket lines.

It’s the first nationwide strike against an American car maker since 1976. The two sides have been negotiating since July. Right up to the very end today all signs were positive. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth explains where things got off track.

ALISA ROTH: When the negotiations started, the big issue on the table was health-care costs, and whether workers would accept a trust fund that would pay for those benefits, while taking the cost of health care off the company’s books.

But it looks like the trust fund’s turning out to be the easy part. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said today the sticking points are job security and other benefits.

Greg Gardner is an analyst with Harbour Consulting. He guesses both sides feel like they compromised a lot on the trust fund talks. The UAW thinks it deserves a break for agreeing to the fund at all. And then there’s GM:

GREG GARDNER: That was the major issue and they weren’t going to give ground on other issues.

For now, the strike doesn’t seem to be much more than a PR problem for GM. In fact, GM’s shares were trading high all day. But GM didn’t stockpile cars — so if the strike continues, there could be all sorts of problems.

Bob Schultz of Standard and Poor’s says both sides still know they have to compromise to survive.

BOB SCHULTZ: I’m sure they realize that having GM continue on with its restructuring plan and continue to make progress is in the best interest of their membership longer-term.

In fact, GM’s workers may be on the streets, but management and the union are already back at the bargaining table.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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