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Canadian auto workers drive for higher wages

Locals representing 36,000 auto unionists in Canada went on strike Wednesday rather than accept what one labor leader called ''a lousy contract'' that auto workers in the United States recently ratified.

The Canadian walkout, authorized by the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Detroit, involves 13 plants in Ontario and Quebec. Some of those are important suppliers of parts to assembly lines in the US. Rod Andrews, chief negotiator for General Motors (GM) of Canada, said the strike would quickly force plant shutdowns and layoffs in the US.

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The GM contract in the US gives workers a first-year pay increase of 2.25 percent, followed by lump-sum bonuses of 2.25 percent in the second and third years. The new contract also provides cost-of-living increases and sets up a $1 billion job-security fund.

Job security, however, is of secondary interest to Canadian workers. The UAW's Canadian locals demanded 3 percent pay increases annually in a three-year contract. The money, they said, could come from an adjustment in the proposed job-security program.

The Canadian UAW says the series of 3 percent raises would give its members 80 cents an hour more in base pay than US workers in 1987. But with the Canadian dollar valued at only about 75 cents, compared with the US dollar, the purchasing power of wages in Canada would still be a little lower.

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