Tuesday, October 9, 2007

UAW steps up talks at Chrysler

UAW steps up talks at Chrysler

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger

Negotiations for Ford brake to a virtual stop

With momentum growing toward ratification of the UAW's proposed contract with General Motors Corp., the union is ramping up negotiations with Chrysler LLC.

Talks at the automaker's Auburn Hills headquarters are expected to intensify over the weekend, while those at Ford Motor Co. have virtually stopped, people familiar with the negotiations said Friday.Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues, said Ford and Chrysler will want to make at least minor changes to the pattern set in GM's deal.

"I suspect the UAW went to Chrysler, because it seemed Chrysler would be the best place to adapt the pattern first," he said.

The union slowed talks with those two automakers when it named GM its strike target Sept. 13, one day before the previous 4-year contract was to expire. After a two-day strike against GM plants nationwide, the union announced a tentative agreement with GM on Sept. 26.

As of Friday evening, at least 14 UAW locals had approved the agreement and three had rejected it.

For ratification, the union needs yes votes from a majority of its more than 73,000 members who work for GM.

Analysts and workers have called the proposed contract historic for its inclusion of a two-tier wage structure and an agreement to transfer responsibility for $50 billion in future retiree health costs from GM to a trust in exchange for a $29.9-billion investment in the trust and guarantees of future U.S. manufacturing work.

Key to gaining worker approval has been the inclusion of an extensive list of product plans and prospects for many of GM's U.S. production facilities.

Approving the agreement, by various margins, were union locals in Pontiac; Flint; Lansing; Grand Rapids; Grand Blanc; Ypsilanti; Toledo; Fairfax, Kan.; Janesville, Wis.; Spring Hill, Tenn.; Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Oklahoma City. (Some cities have more than one local.) Ft. Wayne approved the agreement by just 50.7%.

At the Romulus engine plant, 50.2% of voters opposed the deal Friday. Larry Long, president of Local 163 there, said the margin against was five votes.

UAW members in Wentzville, Mo., also rejected the agreement Friday, union members said. The UAW local representing workers at a New York plant scheduled to close in 2008 rejected the agreement earlier this week.

Chrysler next

In turning to Chrysler for the next round of talks, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger is gambling he can win a quick agreement and then return to Ford with more leverage, Dan Luria, an analyst at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center in Plymouth, told Bloomberg News.

"The UAW has got to go to Chrysler eventually, so if they go there now and things turn out to be relatively easy, then Ford will be in a bad position if they don't go along," he said.

Bloomberg News and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) reported the news first.

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