Special Report

UAW logo2007 UAW
Labor Talks

DETROIT – The tentative agreement between the United Auto Workers and Chrysler LLC did not have unanimous support from the union’s top negotiators this morning as they huddled with local presidents.

There was a single holdout, senior negotiators were told as they gathered here to outline terms of the 4-year deal in preparation for rank-and-file voting expected to begin by Wednesday.

The opposition comes from Bill Parker, the Local 1700 president who led the Chrysler negotiating committee. He plans to distribute leaflets urging union members to reject the contract because of what he believes is a lack of commitment on the part of the auto maker to guarantee future plant investment.

The rift runs counter to the unanimous approval UAW officials gave the previously negotiated, pattern-setting deal with General Motors Corp. Following the Sept. 26 conclusion of GM discussions, which were marked by a 2-day strike, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger trumpeted the unanimity that existed among his bargaining team.

But Gettelfinger has not addressed the media en masse since the Chrysler agreement was reached after a 6-hour walkout Oct. 10. And as he arrives at Cobo Hall for today’s information meetings, he dodges questions, saying only “Ford is next.”

Bargaining continues between the UAW and Ford Motor Co. No strike deadline has been made public, but talks are expected to intensify.

Revelation of a dissenter among the union’s bargaining team did not faze those gathered here. “It happens,” says one official, expressing optimism the rank-and-file will ratify.

If they reject the deal, the UAW could be forced to renegotiate.

A full third of GM workers who cast ballots on their agreement voted against acceptance.

This morning’s meetings break slightly from tradition in that the union is rolling out details to second-tier leaders on the same day at the same venue as top-level officials. Union insiders tell Ward’s this strategy is designed to thwart opposition from developing at the local level.

Industry observers view this year’s round of negotiations as the most critical in decades. A key difference involves the desire by GM, Chrysler and Ford to improve their competitiveness by establishing an independent trust to fund future employee-benefit costs.

Also revolutionary is the establishment of a 2-tier wage structure that enables the auto makers to pay some workers – those not directly involved in vehicle assembly – at a lower rate.

Union members at Chrysler have demonstrated resilience before, rejecting last year an overture to adopt the same mid-contract reductions to health-care benefits as their counterparts at Ford and GM. The intransigence helped spark a movement by DaimlerChrysler AG shareholders that reshaped the industry.

DaimlerChrysler sold its Chrysler unit to Cerberus Capital Management LP to establish Chrysler LLC.