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Delphi Workers in Columbus Approve UAW Strike Authorization

Hundreds of United Auto Workers union members employed by Delphi Corporation in Columbus have voted to authorize a strike if necessary. Local UAW president Mark Sweazy says 96% of voting members on Wednesday agreed to allow the union to call a strike if negotiations with Delphi break down. The auto parts supplier to General Motors has filed for bankruptcy. Delphi says it needs to cut salaries, pensions and other benefits in order to return to profitability.

While union lawyers yesterday argued against Delphi's proposed wage and benefit reductions in a US bankruptcy court in New York, union members in Columbus were voting at local UAW headquarters to approve a strike authorization. Mark Sweazy, president of local 969 says Delphi - not the union - is solely to blame.

"This provocation that we have today was not brought on by any member or any part of the organization," Sweazy says. "It was brought on by the bankruptcy filing of Delphi Corporation. So we've been put in a precarious situation. The corporation wants to nullify the agreement we have with them. So the international union wants us to be prepared if necessary should a strike be necessary."

Delphi employs 13,000 workers at its ten plants in Ohio. The company wants to cut workers' wages from $27 an hour to $16.50 if General Motors agrees to pay a portion of the amount. If not, wages would be reduced to $12.50 an hour. Evelyn Martin, who says she's worked at the Columbus plant for 29 years, flatly rejects the proposal and says she voted in favor of the strike authorization.

"I voted "yes" because of what they're trying to do to us," Martin says. "You know the 'man at the top,' they're making all the money and they want to cut our wages. And it's not right. If they want to cut down to $10 or $12 an hour, they need to ask themselves if they can make it at $10 or $12 an hour. I don't think so," she says.

Delphi's 'man at the top,' Steve Miller says difficult but necessary decisions have to be made if the company is to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He says labor agreements must be modified if the company is to remain competitive.

But Tom Meyers, who says he works for Delphi and the UAW, says a contract is a contract.

"I'm almost to retirement," Meyers says. "And obviously to me, I want to keep my pension, I want to keep my benefits in tact. It was negotiated. It was all negotiated; nothing was ever given to us. Everything was always negotiated - it was give and take."

But if negotiations between the union and Delphi fail, local UAW president Mark Sweazy says he thinks a strike might turn things around.

"With the pressure of a bankruptcy pending - which would mean disaster to General Motors - if we would shut down at Delphi for say, 60 days, it would cost that corporation $7 billion to $8 billion. That's not our goal. But we want them to live up to their obligations," Sweazy says.

All UAW members working at Delphi plants will complete voting on the strike authorization this week.

The company says it wants to close or sell 21 of its 29 plants in the US. Six Ohio plants, including the Columbus facility, would most likely be shut down.