Union members approve contract with Chrysler despite dissent

Sunday, October 28, 2007

DETROIT -- Despite significant dissent among some of its workers, United Auto Workers members narrowly passed a four-year contract agreement with Chrysler LLC on Saturday, leaving Ford Motor Co. as the last automaker to negotiate with in this year's round of contract talks.

Talks with Ford were proceeding Saturday, although union leadership wasn't expected to attend and no agreement was expected during the weekend, a person briefed on the talks said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

The union said 56 percent of production workers and 51 percent of skilled trades workers voted for the Chrysler pact. The percentages voting in favor were much higher among clerical workers and engineers represented by the union.

The contract covers about 45,000 active workers at Chrysler and more than 55,000 Chrysler retirees and 23,000 surviving spouses. It will expire Sept. 14, 2011.

"Our members had to face some tough choices, and we had a solid, democratic debate about this contract," UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement. "Now we're going to come together as a union -- and now it's on the company to move ahead, increase their market share and continue to build great cars and trucks here in the U.S."

Chrysler, which became a private company in August when it was bought by Cerberus Capital Management LLC, said the agreement will make the company more competitive.

"We are pleased that our UAW employees recognize that the new agreement meets the needs of the company and its employees by providing a framework to improve our long-term manufacturing competitiveness," Tom LaSorda, Chrysler's vice chairman and president, said in a statement.

The union and Chrysler reached agreement Oct. 10 following a six-hour nationwide strike. Like the agreement ratified earlier by General Motors Corp. workers, the Chrysler contract establishes a union-run trust to cover retirees' health care and allows the company to pay lower wages to about 11,000 noncore, nonassembly workers.

At GM, 66 percent of workers ratified the deal. But at Chrysler, many workers were angered by the contract, saying it failed to make as many guarantees for future work as GM's contract. Some workers also were upset about the two-tier wage structure.

As recently as Tuesday, the pact appeared headed for defeat after large locals in Kokomo, Ind., voted it down. But workers at four Michigan assembly and stamping plants had a strong turnout Wednesday and voted largely in favor. The votes pushed the favorable count ahead.

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