General Motors Corp. workers stayed on the job without a contract Monday as United Auto Workers President Stephen Yokich refrained -- for now -- from calling a strike against the world's largest automaker.
Negotiations for a new national labor contract covering 215,000 workers at GM recessed early Monday after a midnight strike deadline passed.
Negotiations at GM's headquarters building here continued for 17 hours until about 2 a.m. Monday, when bargainers began leaving, carrying their overnight bags. They returned later but held only brief talks before leaving for the day. Talks were set to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.
"The only place you can settle these agreements is at the bargaining table," Yokich told a news conference early Monday. "We feel that with or without a contract in place, we can continue (working). It's open-ended."
The union plans to bring its plant-level leaders to Detroit for a meeting on the talks on Saturday, a move that typically comes after a tentative agreement is reached.
Although Yokich played down the threat of a strike Monday, he said some of the more than 100 local unions at GM plants may resort to walkouts unless the automaker meets union demands in separate negotiations for local labor agreements.
The local talks have become a sticking point for the national negotiations, Yokich said, because only a few of the locals have signed agreements with GM. The local pacts typically cover plant-specific issues such as work rules and health and safety standards, while the national contract covers wages, benefits, job security and other common issues.
"We decided that some of these locals need to work on these issues probably before we can ever get a settlement," Yokich said, declining to identify specific plants or issues.
Nevertheless, he urged anxious UAW members who watched their Canadian counterparts strike for three weeks this month to stay on the job for the time being.
"We hope that everyone understands that we can't do it in the street. It isn't weakness -- we have to do it at the bargaining table," he said.
Although union members were prepared to walk off the job Sunday night, Ken Summers, administrative assistant to the chairman of Local 594 in Pontiac, Mich., said the members supported Yokich's strategy.
"People understand that things have got to be done the way the negotiators do it," he said. "Nobody wants to strike."
In a written statement in response to Yokich's comments, GM Vice President of Personnel Gerald Knechtel said the talks have been constructive.
Yokich chided GM's hard-headed negotiating style as "typical GM," noting the union has consistently had a better relationship with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp.