The tentative deal between the United Auto Workers and
Chrysler LLC was hailed as a historic step forward for the company
just a couple of weeks ago. Many rank-and-file members, however,
have rejected that message.
In early voting, six local unions representing more than 11,000
workers have turned down the pact, while four locals representing
about 5,500 workers have said ``yes.'' It's nearly impossible to
keep a running total of the votes because local union officials give
out only percentages and not the number of people who voted.
Yet with large chunk of the 45,000 workers covered by the
contract still voting, UAW leaders in Detroit have started a heavy
lobbying campaign for passage. Several big locals in Indiana and
Michigan are scheduled to vote Tuesday and Wednesday.
``It's going to be close. They're going to work very hard here at
the end to pull this together,'' David Cole, chairman of the Center
for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, said Monday.
UAW workers haven't rejected a national contract since Chrysler
employees did in 1982, said Mike Smith, director of the Walter P.
Reuther Library at Wayne State University.
Opponents mainly object to a lower-tier wage scale for many new
hires of around $14 per hour and new vehicle guarantees for
factories that mainly run for the life of the contract but are less
than what General Motors Corp. guaranteed workers in its contract
If the contract is voted down, the UAW likely would return to the
bargaining table to try to address members' concerns, said Canadian
Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove.
``If you're a bargainer, then you'll know if it's been rejected
you'll have to go back and try to get a better deal in those
areas,'' Hargrove said.
Chrysler sells most of its vehicles in North America and has
little global presence. Its new owner, private equity firm Cerberus
Capital Management LP, needs a partner to give it the global economy
of scale that GM, its main competitor, already is using, Cole said.
Without a competitive wage agreement, no partner will join
Chrysler, and that could make Cerberus look for other options to get
a return on its investment, such as selling off the company in
``I don't think the membership at Chrysler really quite
understands the gravity of the situation,'' Cole said.
Chrysler, he said, is likely to cut models, so it can't guarantee
next-generation products for individual plants like GM did, he said.
Workers know the risk _ Cerberus could sell off the company _ and
they're aware of global competition, said Chris Ryan, a worker at a
transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind.
But Ryan, a third-generation Chrysler worker, is reluctant to
give up benefits, such as pensions, that his grandfather helped win
with a long strike.
``It is a very tense situation,'' Ryan said. ``Do you want to
just go along willingly or do you want to put up some resistance?''
The chief opponent of the contract is Bill Parker, the UAW's
national Chrysler negotiating chairman and president of Local 1700
at suburban Detroit's Sterling Heights assembly plant.
Top UAW leaders were to meet with Parker and officers of his
local on Monday afternoon in advance of the local's vote Wednesday.
Locals representing about 7,000 workers in Kokomo vote Tuesday, and
locals in Sterling Heights and Warren, with about 9,000 members,
A negative vote by Chrysler members wouldn't damage UAW president
Ron Gettelfinger's credibility, said David Weil, an associate
professor of economics at Boston University.
``If you think about what they're negotiating and what a major
change this agreement really is ... it's not surprising that this
thing has not sort of just sailed through,'' Weil said.
Melvin Thompson, president of a local in Warren, said he's been
lobbying in favour of the pact because it saves jobs at several
operations and preserves communities.
If Chrysler is more competitive, that would bring job security to
workers, he said.
``We know that our security lies in producing a high-quality
product that customers love at a low production cost,'' he said.
``Simply promising you a product doesn't promise anything.''