The United Auto Workers union announced that its roughly 49,000 members at General Motors plants in the US will go on strike Sunday night because contract negotiations with the automaker had broken down.
The decision came after about 200 plant-level union leaders voted unanimously in favour of a walkout during a meeting Sunday morning in Detroit.
"We stood up for General Motors when they needed us most. Now we are standing together in unity and solidarity for our members," union Vice President Terry Dittes said in a statement.
It's still possible that bargainers could return to the table and hammer out an agreement, but union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said at a news conference that it would be unlikely. He said it would be hard to believe that the bargainers could resolve so many issues before midnight.
The announcement came hours after the union let its four-year contract with GM expire on Saturday night.
Workers were told to report to jobs as negotiations continued.
General Motors says it presented what it believes was a strong offer, including improved wages and benefits and investments, for the workers at its US plants in eight facilities across four states.
"It is disappointing that the UAW leadership has chosen to strike at midnight tonight. We have negotiated in good faith and with a sense of urgency. Our goal remains to build a strong future for our employees and our business," the company said.
Halt to production
On Saturday, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes said in a letter to GM members that after months of bargaining, both the union and GM were far apart on issues such as wages, health care, temporary employees, job security and profit-sharing. The letter to members and another one to GM were aimed at turning up the pressure on GM negotiators.
"While we are fighting for better wages, affordable quality health care, and job security, GM refuses to put hard-working Americans ahead of their record profits," Dittes, the union's chief bargainer with GM, said in a statement Saturday night.
A strike by 49,200 union workers would bring to a halt GM's US production, and would likely stop the company from making vehicles in Canada and Mexico as well. That would mean fewer vehicles for consumers to choose from on dealer lots, and it would make it impossible to build specially ordered cars and trucks.
Talks between the union and GM were tense from the start, largely because GM plans to close four US factories. The union has promised to fight the closures.
The strike would be the union's first since a two-day work stoppage at GM in 2007.
The impasse comes at the end of a chaotic week in which a member of the UAW's executive board was arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiracy to use union dues for lavish personal expenses.
Vance Pearson, a UAW director in St. Louis, Missouri, was accused of using union conferences as a cover to justify long-term stays at luxury resorts in California.