Chrysler Nails UAW Contract



The United Auto Workers reports that its members have ratified its first labor agreement with Chrysler LLC.

“We are pleased that our UAW employees recognize that the new agreement meets the needs of the company and its employees by providing a framework to improve our long-term manufacturing competitiveness,'' Tom LaSorda, Chrysler's vice chairman and president, said in a statement released after the union announced the contract had been approved.

Meanwhile, the UAW also is moving to finish off negotiations with Ford. The negotiations with Ford are expected to conclude sometime next week.

The UAW's official tally showed that 56 percent of the production workers at Chrysler and 51 percent of the skilled tradesworkers had voted in favor of the new contract. Ninety-four percent of office and clerical workers voted in favor of the agreement, and 79 percent of UAW-represented Chrysler engineering workers approved the pact.

“Our members had to face some tough choices, and we had a solid, democratic debate about this contract,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said. “Now we’re going to come together as a union — and now it’s on the company to move ahead, increase their market share and continue to build great cars and trucks here in the U.S.”

The contentious debate inside the union was symptom of the UAW's declining influence within theU.S. auto industry. Critics of the pact said that Gettelfinger was surrendering gains the union had taken a half-century to accumulate.

For example, many workers were unhappy with a new wage scale that will pay new hires $14 per hour or about half what long-term employees will make under the same contract. The lower wage for new hires is a step towards permanently lowering the wages of auto workers in the U.S., according to critics of the contract such as Bill Parker, the president of the UAW Local 1700 in Sterling Heights, who chaired the Chrysler bargaining committee.

Gettelfinger, however, lobbied hard for the contract after it was rejected by workers at two of Chrysler's assembly plants in St. Louis, Mo. A significant number of workers had voted against the contract in St. Louis because it contained only limited guarantees on job security.
UAW officials told workers in final stages of the ratification vote the agreement was the best union negotiators could get given the climate in the industry. Chrysler has lost more than $4 billion in the past year and had just been dumped by Daimler AG.

“There’s no question this was a difficult set of negotiations during difficult times for the U.S. auto industry,” said UAW Vice President General Holifield, who heads the union’s Chrysler Department. “But with the support of our membership and local leadership, we have an agreement that secures jobs and wages and protects healthcare and pension benefits,” Holifield said.

Nevertheless, the last workers to vote on the contract, union members from the Chrysler plant in Belvidere, Ill., also rejected the contract but by only 55 percent, which wasn't enough to halt the ratification, union officials familiar with the voting said.

The new contract, reached Oct. 10, following a six-hour nationwide strike against the company, covers approximately 45,000 active workers at Chrysler and more than 55,000 Chrysler retirees and 23,000 surviving spouses and it expires on Sept. 14, 2011.

The UAW-Chrysler contract was patterned after the contract the union negotiated in September with General Motors and includes a voluntary employee benefit association or VEBA that will give the union direct responsibility for retiree healthcare in exchange for $46 billion in cash and stock. At GM, 66 percent of workers ratified the deal.


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