Auto workers and GM keep bargaining as unionists walk out of selected plants

Negotiations between General Motors (GM) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) continued behind closed doors through the weekend, with both sides hopeful that a partial strike could be settled with little or no disruption of GM's busy production lines.

Selective strikes at 13 plants employing 62,700 of GM's 350,000 workers began without rancor and with some optimism at midnight Friday, immediately affecting only one plant with weekend work scheduled.

The continuing talks were encouraging, in an industry concerned about the possible impact of a long shutdown in major GM plants. Bargaining often is broken off for a ''cooling off'' period, perhaps for a week or longer, when a union strikes. Instead, GM and the UAW returned to serious contract talks in Detroit only hours after walkouts were announced.

Negotiations continued throughout Saturday and were resumed yesterday. Later in the day, the union said cautiously that ''some progress'' was being made. UAW president Owen Bieber said: ''We'll talk as long as we think there's progress.'' A GM spokesman told reporters, ''We are hopeful.''

Meanwhile, holding his fingers an inch apart, Bruce Lee, the UAW's regional director for nine Western states, said negotiators came ''that close'' to an agreement before the deadline period.

In a break with past policy, the UAW did not strike GM on a national basis or over major contract differences when existing contracts ran out at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. It announced what were ostensibly local strikes over unresolved local issues - such as plant working conditions. By using such a strategy, the way would be smoothed for a quick return to plants as soon as national contract differences over job security and money could be worked out.

There was hope yesterday that this could be accomplished in time to permit near-normal operations today. More realistically, union negotiators talked of having ''something concrete'' to put before members of UAW's GM national bargaining council meeting in Detroit at midweek.

''Something concrete'' could be a proposed settlement. Or it could be a report that there appears to be no further hope of an agreement and that a national walkout should be called to preserve auto jobs and to restore ''annual improvement factor raises'' (percentage increases) in workers' pay.

UAW gave up this wage policy to help GM and Ford weather financial bad times a few years ago.

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