American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings, crippled for more than a month by a United Auto Workers strike, has now advertised in Sunday newspapers for potential replacement workers.

According to the Associated Press (AP), an advertisement published in the classified section of The Oakland Press of Pontiac read in part: "Employment offered to applicants responding to this advertisement will be to fill anticipated attrition replacement openings after negotiations or in place of employees involved in this strike."

The UAW responded by calling for a mass picket on Monday (31 March) outside American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings' Detroit headquarters, the news agency added.

Spokeswoman Renee Rogers on Sunday told AP that, besides Detroit, the company ran similar ads in newspapers near other American Axle facilities in Three Rivers and the Buffalo, New York state, area.

"We expect that once an agreement is reached with the UAW a significant number of associates will participate in buyouts and early retirements. We are currently preparing a pool of potential new associates," she was quoted as saying.

AP noted that about 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York walked off their jobs on 26 February in a dispute over wages and benefits. The action has forced General Motors to fully or partly shut down 29 vehicle plants in the US and Canada.

Although there have been discussions between top bargainers, full negotiating teams for both sides haven't met since 10 March, the Associated Press said. Rogers told the news agency on Sunday that no new information on the talks was available.

AP said American Axle has also sent letters to UAW-represented workers who were laid off before the strike began, asking them to return to work. Rogers reportedly said yesterday that she didn't know how many workers were sent letters.

AP noted that the laid-off workers could lose benefits if they don't return to work.

Separately, Automotive News (AN) reported on Friday night that the AAM strike had closed its first GM car assembly plant and would possibly affect another.

GM confirmed to AN that it would shut its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, which builds the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne sedans.

" GM informed employees at Detroit-Hamtramck that production will be idled following Friday's production," GM spokesman Dan Flores wrote in an e-mail message to Automotive News. " So effective Monday, 31 March, (the plant) will be down."

AN added that GM may also stop building the Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 in Lordstown, Ohio, as soon as early this week, because of a shortage of an AAM-made brake part.

" Based on the information we have received (the strike) could impact us at the end of this week or early next week," said a bulletin on the website of UAW Local [branch] 1112, which represents Lordstown workers, AN reported.

"Lordstown is running regular production," Flores told AN in the Friday e-mail message.

According to Automotive News, GM had a 53-day supply of Chevrolet Cobalts and a 110-day supply of G5s as of 1 March 1. Buick Lucerne inventories were at 100 days and the DTS at 59 days.

IRN automotive analyst Erich Merkle told the trade newspaper a shutdown of the plants would be unlikely to force GM's hand in the month-long American Axle strike.

" It's a little bit of an 'ouch,' but it's certainly something that's survivable," Merkle said. " GM could still probably afford to stand on the sidelines a little while longer."