DETROIT (FOX 2) - More than 49,000 members of the United Auto Workers walked off General Motors factory floors or set up picket lines early Monday as contract talks with the company deteriorated into a strike.
Workers shut down 33 manufacturing plants in nine states across the U.S., as well as 22 parts distribution warehouses.
And now we're learning the strike could have been averted had the company made its latest offer sooner, the union's top negotiator said in a letter to the company.
In the letter dated Sunday, UAW Vice President Terry Dittes told GM's labor relations chief that the latest offer could have made it possible to reach an agreement and avoid the strike. The letter could suggest that the company and union aren't as far apart as the rhetoric leading up to the strike had indicated. Negotiations resumed in Detroit on Monday after breaking off during the weekend.
But union spokesman Brian Rothenberg said they have come to terms on only 2% of the new four-year contract. "We've got 98% to go," he said Monday.
In the letter to Scott Sandefur, GM's vice president of labor relations, Dittes wrote that the company waited until just two hours before the contract expired on Saturday night to make its first serious offer. "Had we received this proposal earlier in the process, it may have been possible to reach a tentative agreement and avoid a strike," Dittes wrote.
It's the first national strike by the union since a two-day walkout in 2007 that had little impact on the company.
A crowd was growing Monday morning outside the Detroit-Hamtramck plant, with many workers carrying picket signs and chanting. Many drivers coming appear to be honking in support. You can see more from the scene in the video player above.
General Motors has issued a statement: "The offer we presented to the UAW prioritizes employees, communities and builds a stronger future for all. It includes improved wages and health care benefits, over $7B in U.S. investments and 5,400 jobs. Let's come together and secure our shared future."
Contract negotiations revolve around four themes: higher wages, health care access, the idling of four U.S. plants and temporary workers wanting to become permanent.
Prior to the call for a strike, GM bulked up its stock on trucks and SUVs just in case.
Critical, although nuanced to this specific negotiation dispute is upheaval at the top of the UAW, where several members including the president have been caught in a federal corruption probe.
The scheme was a multi-year plot where hundreds of thousands of dollars were embezzled. It's a fact that's been hard to ignore for many workers.
"This will be my first contract," said UAW-GM Employee Caley Jennings. "I feel like for people that's new here, it should be a better experience than everything is corrupt."
"It's the corruption. I mean this is the over lying story about this year's negotiations," said Auto Analyst, John Mcelroy.
Auto analysts say the mistrust of UAW top officials could make auto workers a harder sell on a final contract. However, in a faltering auto market, General Motors doesn't have much to gain from upheaval at the top brass.