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About 500 employees at General Motors Corp.'s Town of Tonawanda Engine Plant are among the several thousand people nationwide, who are expected to return to work Monday after being laid off for two weeks due to a strike in Canada.

Arvin Jones, manager of the engine plant, said Thursday that all first-shift production and material workers should return to work at 6 a.m. Monday. Skilled trades personnel will be contacted individually if their services are required, he said.

The local call-back represents about half of the 1,050 engine plant workers who have been idled due to a strike north of the border by the Canadian Auto Workers.

Second-shift employees are not to return to work, Jones said.

GM officials stressed that the call-backs do not signal an end to the bitter Canadian strike. "It is simply to meet customer requirements and is a schedule adjustment," said Marilynn Rowe, a spokeswoman for the Powertrain Division which includes the Tonawanda engine operation.

But there was a hint of optimism Thursday surrounding the Canadian talks. Round-the-clock talks between the CAW and GM of Canada Ltd. will begin late Friday in hopes of reaching a contract settlement by a noon Monday target.

Both sides said that they were optimistic a deal could be reached on the key issue of outsourcing, GM's desire to farm out more parts work to less costly, independent suppliers. GM has three Ontario parts plants up for sale.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," CAW President Buzz Hargrove said from Toronto. "We're really getting geared up for a full-court press Friday night, Saturday and Sunday," said Stew Low, a spokesman for GM of Canada. "There's a lot of work to get done before now and Monday noon."

The 26,300 workers on strike have shut down GM's assembly and parts operations in Canada, which has led to some plant slowdowns and closures and thousand of layoffs in the United States and Mexico.

The affected employees at the Tonawanda plant produce 3.1-liter V-6 engines that power many GM cars, including the Buick Century, Regal and Skylark; Chevrolet Beretta, Corsica, Lumina and Monte Carlo; Olds Achieva, Ciera and Cutlass, and the Pontiac Grand Am and Grand Prix.

Last year, the Tonawanda plant turned out 731,300 of the 3.1-liter engine -- the largest output among its four product lines. The engines were delivered to GM assembly plants in Wilmington, Del.; Doraville, Ga.; Fairfax, Kansas; Lansing, Mich., and Oshawa, Ont. Only the Ontario factory has been idled by the strike so far.

"We're doing whatever we can to keep the assembly plants operating," said Tom Klipstine, a spokesman for GM's North American operations. "One of plants was running out of engines and the (transport) racks became available, so we decided to call people back to work."

Of the seven major auto-parts factories in Western New York, only the Tonawanda engine operation has been impacted by the Canadian walkout.

GM said 7,536 workers still remained off their jobs in the United States and Mexico on Thursday because of the strike.

GM announced late Thursday that it had partially shut down its engine plant in Livonia, Mich., because of the strike, laying off 115 workers.

But the No. 1 automaker resumed full production at six of its Delphi Packard Electric parts plants in Mexico, taking 3,866 workers off its U.S.-Mexico layoff list. The action was unrelated to the move toward a possible settlement.

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