Thursday, November 1, 2007

Sterling Heights plants voting on Chrysler contract today

By David Barkholz

About a third of Chrysler L.L.C.'s unionized employees at plants in Michigan and Illinois will take pivotal votes on the union's proposed contract with the automaker Wednesday and Friday after another round of local rejections took place Tuesday.

Two key plants in Sterling Heights, with 4,700 workers, are to complete voting Wednesday.

Leading contract opponent Bill Parker says the United Auto Workers should return to the bargaining table to fight for future product guarantees if the rank and file reject the tentative agreement with Chrysler.

On Tuesday, 6,000 workers at Chrysler's Kokomo, Ind., transmission operations dealt another blow to chances that the UAW would ratify the tentative new master contract with Chrysler. About 70 percent of the workers casting votes rejected the deal as part of a heavy turnout, the Kokomo Tribune reported.

Parker, who represents about 2,700 hourly workers at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, said Chrysler workers should have received new-product commitments similar to those the UAW won from General Motors Corp. last month.

Chrysler's tentative agreement is in danger of not passing because of the failure to get those promises and other provisions that fall short of the GM contract, said Parker, president of Local 1700.

That includes Chrysler's decision not to make temporary workers permanent; GM promised to permanently hire 3,000.

"If the agreement is defeated, the union should return to bargaining and address the issues that have led to member dissatisfaction," Parker said in an interview today.

UAW-represented workers have overwhelmingly rejected the tentative agreement at four of the eight Chrysler assembly plants that have completed voting on the contract. But the voting is too close to call because of victories at several engine and parts plants.

Parker said Chrysler workers already are making sacrifices in the proposed contract with a lower wage for new hires, a restructured health care plan and changes in factory work rules. They should expect at least what GM workers received in return for similar provisions — that is, specific pledges for new products, Parker said.

Parker is one of the few local leaders vocal in his opposition to the contract. He was the lone person on the nine-member Chrysler UAW National Negotiating Committee to vote against the plan.

Rank-and-file opposition is widespread, unorganized and largely plant-by-plant, Parker said. The workers simply are voting their interests and consciences, he said.

That contrasts with an orchestrated push by UAW leadership to get the agreement approved. Last Friday, workers at the Jefferson North assembly plant rejected the contract by a wide margin despite personal lobbying by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and UAW Chrysler department Vice President General Holiefield.

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