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UAW members resume work at auto supplier Nexteer's U.S. operations

UPDATED: 12/9/15 2:12 pm ET - adds details, UAW comment

Union workers at Nexteer Automotive Group Ltd.'s plant in Saginaw, Mich., returned to work today after reaching a tentative agreement on a new contract late Tuesday following a 20-hour strike, officials from the UAW said.

About 3,200 UAW-represented Nexteer employees at the company's main North American factory walked off the job early on Tuesday after rejecting an earlier contract proposal. The walkout halted production of steering systems and other components essential to vehicle production by General Motors and other automakers.

Later in the day, leaders of UAW Local 699 announced on their Facebook page that a new tentative agreement had been reached, and instructed members to report for work starting with the third shift on Tuesday night.

Local 699 President Rick Burzynski did not disclose details of the new agreement, which is subject to ratification by members of Local 699 and could still be rejected. He said a vote is likely to come up next week.

“I’m not going to let it drag on,” Burzynski said.

The strike at Nexteer came after UAW-represented workers at the Saginaw factory on Sunday voted down a previously proposed contract by a wide margin. Local 699 leaders posted a tally sheet of the vote on Facebook showing 3,103 "No" votes to only 80 "Yes" votes.

Not surprised

Burzynski said he was not surprised by the deal’s wide margin of defeat. Workers gave up a lot in wages and benefits in the last round of negotiations in 2010, and they expected more this time around, he said.

“Our membership was loud and clear,” he said.

Burzynski said the union’s negotiating team got the most out of the rejected deal that they could have.

“That was the most the company was willing to give,” he said.

After the rejection, the union went back to Nexteer with another offer, and the company responded with one of its own, he said. Burzynski said Nexteer’s counteroffer was “not enough,” so the strike was set to begin on Tuesday.

Local 699 was “given the OK” to strike from UAW International, Burzynski said.

Low inventory

Burzynski said he felt Nexteer would feel pressure to end the strike almost instantly since its customers keep low inventory levels and depend on regular shipments of its parts to operate.

“I figured we’d shut down some (assembly) plants,” said Burzynski, who said he anticipated the strike lasting up to “a couple” days.

Nexteer, controlled by a unit of Aviation Industry Corp. of China, was formerly part of GM and remains a major supplier of steering systems and related hardware to the automaker. Nexteer supplies steering systems for GM's profitable Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks.

GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said in statements earlier on Tuesday that they were monitoring the situation at Nexteer. GM also said its production had not been disrupted.

FCA said Nexteer supplies parts to several of its North American factories.

Ford Motor Co. said in a statement that Nexteer's Saginaw facility "does not directly support any Ford operations in North America."

Local 699 members will work under the previous agreement, the chapter said in a Facebook post today.

“Thank you for your patience while we prepare summaries and the language in the tentative agreement that will address your questions,” the post reads in part.

John Irwin and Reuters contributed to this report.

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