10/16/07

UAW leaders balk at Chrysler deal

As Chrysler LLC's tentative contract with the United Auto Workers was winning approval from the union's national council Monday, more details were coming out on the General Motors Corp. contract that set the pattern for the Chrysler deal.

And those details could fan the flames of discontent at Chrysler and Ford Motor Co., which heads back to the bargaining table Tuesday.

The chairman of the UAW's national negotiating committee at Chrysler and the president of Local 1268 at Chrysler's Belvidere assembly plant near Rockford were among those who spoke out against the contract at a closed meeting in Detroit.

Local 1268 President Tom Littlejohn told reporters in Detroit that he can't support the pact because it fails to give permanent jobs to about 600 temporary workers at Belvidere and does not include commitments to keep most plants open beyond the current products. The union didn't say when rank-and-file members would vote.

GM's contract, ratified last week, makes 2,800 temporary workers permanent and gives commitments at 14 assembly plants. The latter, however, hinges on market conditions and another contract that will be negotiated in the meantime. Jim Doser is a temp who has been at Belvidere since April 2006. He is in the position of getting to vote on the contract but then possibly losing his job.

"GM can hire 3,000 temps, but Chrysler can't hire 600. I'm not real impressed," he said.

Chrysler apparently wouldn't agree to that because it has a younger workforce than GM, averaging 45 years old to GM's 50, which makes fewer employees eligible for retirement. GM plans to use the jobs vacated by those retiring to hire the temps, something Chrysler's not in a position to do.

That's why Littlejohn said he wouldn't encourage his local's 3,800 members to vote for it.

"I will present the facts to them, but I'm not going to recommend it," he said.

Chrysler's pact contains several provisions similar to GM's, according to highlights given to local presidents Monday. The UAW agreed to it Wednesday after a six-hour strike at most of Chrysler's U.S. plants.

Among the similarities is that Chrysler would establish a trust fund for its $18 billion in retiree health-care obligations that the union would manage. The automaker would contribute $10.3 billion to the fund.

Workers also would receive lump-sum bonuses instead of annual wage increases, and they would pay more of their own health-care costs, essentially matching what workers pay at GM and Ford under concessions made in 2005.

Those are among details of the GM agreement, released Monday to analysts, that could give the union at Chrysler pause.

That happened with the health-care concessions granted in 2005. GM workers approved them by a wide margin, but Ford's OKd them by fewer than 100 votes a few weeks later.

The givebacks never went to Chrysler for a vote because UAW leaders feared they wouldn't pass, said Mike Parker, who retired last month.

"It's going to be a very hard sell. GM was able to give commitments for its plants, but there's no such commitment at Chrysler. They'll just be able to pit plant against plant" to get products by demanding local concessions, Parker said.

Separately, GM said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and in a presentation to analysts that its trust fund for retiree health care will start in 2010, when it expects to begin achieving pretax savings of $2.6 billion to $3.4 billion annually.

GM also said the "jobs bank," which guaranteed that laid-off workers would receive basic pay and benefits for years, now caps the benefit at two years.

(chicagotribune.com)

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