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Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly visits picket line, urges GM to reach accord with union

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly climbed into the bed of a black Chevy pickup Thursday afternoon to voice support of General Motors employees on strike in Kansas city, Kansas.

During a visit to the UAW Local 31 union hall and the picket line, the Democratic governor repeatedly called on GM to meet workers at the negotiating table. She said GM is an important employer in Kansas and said she had urged the company to find a resolution.

“We need for you and them to get back together, negotiate a settlement and let you all get back to work,” she said.

While nearly 50,000 UAW members have been on strike since early Monday, reports suggest the union and management continue to talk through contract negotiations in Detroit.

The union is seeking better wages, profit sharing and job security along with changes to the company’s treatment of temporary workers. GM wants to realign its factories to better meet the needs of the fast-changing auto market and control costs to be more competitive with the makers of foreign nameplate cars.

About 2,200 hourly workers at GM’s Fairfax Assembly Plant in KCK walked out over the impasse on contract negotiations. UAW members and supporters have picketed at several sites surrounding the nearly 5 million-square-foot plant since Monday morning.

Inside the union hall, the Kansas governor saw how union leaders were organizing volunteers. And she visited a stock room full of donated food and water.

“You should all feel really good about that,” she later told the picketing workers. “People are with you, supporting you. We’re with you and supporting you.”

GM officials on Monday released a short statement saying contract negotiations were ongoing.

“Our goal remains to reach an agreement that builds a stronger future for our employees and our business,” the statement said.

On Thursday, a UAW vice president wrote members saying that “some progress” had been made during negotiations. In that note, obtained by CNBC, Terry Dittes said talks would continue “this weekend and beyond.”

The Kansas governor picked up a small bullhorn on her visit to a second picket line on Thursday

“Everybody see the Norma Rae movie?” she asked through the device. “Because that’s what I feel like.”

The governor took a few pictures and shook some hands. But the visit was short.

“I hope this doesn’t last much longer,” she said. “It’s hot out here. You guys have got to be tired and hungry.”

But spirits were high: UAW members chanted and someone blasted the song “Solidarity Forever” over a loud speaker.

“It goes to show you that we have people behind us who said they would be behind us when we need them,” said Clarence Brown, president of the UAW Local 31. “And she’s proof of that.”

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Kevin Hardy covers business for The Kansas City Star. He previously covered business and politics at The Des Moines Register. He also has worked at newspapers in Kansas and Tennessee. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas
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