Monday, September 28, 2015

Detroit Workers Reject Deal In Another Blow to FCA-UAW Contract
By Brent Snavely and By Greg Gardner
Detroit Free Press
10:03 a.m. EDT September 28, 2015

Signs of trouble continue to emerge for the UAW's proposed contract with FCA as workers at Jefferson North Assembly resoundingly vote against the deal.

Workers at Fiat Chrysler's Jefferson North Assembly Plant have resoundingly rejected a four-year tentative agreement between the UAW and the automaker, further jeopardizing chances of approval nationwide.

At UAW Local 7, whose workers make the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango at the Detroit assembly plant, 66% of the production workers who cast ballots voted against the contract and 77% of skilled trades workers voted against the deal.

The vote was the latest blow against the agreement, hammered out earlier this month by CEO Sergio Marchionne and UAW President Dennis Williams. While approximately one-third of Fiat Chrysler's workforce has yet to vote on the deal, most of the larger UAW units that have voted so far have rejected it. What's more, the margin of defeat at several locations has been growing as the voting has worn on.

A nationwide rejection of the contract would threaten to throw the UAW's contract talks with the Detroit Three into turmoil and would force union leaders to either try to return to the bargaining table with Fiat Chrysler, call a strike or turn its attention to negotiating an agreement with either Ford or General Motors. For the deal to become official, a majority of more than 40,000 workers from 37 UAW units would need to vote in favor of the agreement in voting that is scheduled to occur through Wednesday.

Some Jefferson North Assembly workers, who didn't want to be named after emerging from a membership meeting Sunday, expressed concerns about what will happen if the contract is rejected.

But most workers leaving that meeting were happy and smiling because they believe they are sending a message to their leadership that they are unhappy with the terms of the proposed deal, particularly how it addresses the wages of Tier 2 workers, as well as a lack of detail and clarity on the automaker's product plan and on a proposed healthcare cooperative.

If the contract is ratified, every worker would get a $3,000 signing bonus, entry-level workers in assembly plants would see wages increase to a range of $17 to $25.35 per hour, and workers hired before 2007 would receive two 3% wage increases and two lump-sum bonuses over the life of the contract.

On Saturday, members of UAW Local 51 from Fiat Chrysler's Mack Avenue Engine Complex in Detroit, attended an informational meeting in Detroit and also voiced their displeasure with the proposed contract.

"I can't see how the International (UAW) was thinking about us in this contract. I don't think they had our best interests in mind," said Mike Kirkpatrick, who has worked at the Mack Avenue Engine Complex for nearly two years. "They promised to get rid of the two tier system and they did just the opposite and created a bunch of tiers."

Kirkpatrick, a former Marine who also worked as a contractor in Iraq for several years, said he is pleased to see that the contract would provide what he sees as a small wage increase for entry level workers like himself.

"But I am not in it for the short term," Kirkpatrick said. "I am in it for the long term. I am looking at the next 20 years."

David Boons, who has worked for the automaker for 20 years and is also a member of UAW Local 51, said his biggest concern is the lack of clarity about the automaker's product investment plan and the lack of detail the UAW is providing about a new, proposed health care cooperative.

"There is some good and some bad in this contract," Boons said. "But when you start to weigh the positives against the negatives, it comes out a negative."

Boons said workers are concerned because there have been media reports that Fiat Chrysler is planning to make sweeping changes to its product plans over the next four years that include moving production of the Chrysler 200 and the Dodge Dart from plants in Sterling Heights and Belvidere, Ill. to Mexico. Meanwhile, the automaker plans to move the Jeep Cherokee from Toledo to Belvidere and the Ram from Warren to Sterling Heights.

The proposed contract includes a commitment by Fiat Chrysler to invest $5.3 billion in U.S. plants over the next four years. However, neither the automaker nor the UAW have confirmed the details of that investment plan.

"I am never in favor of moving work," Boons said. "When you move work, you may never get it back."

The proposed agreement also includes a commitment by the UAW and the automaker to form a health care cooperative for active workers that would be modeled after the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust.

But many workers, including Boons, say they remain unsure how the cooperative would be managed and operated and worry it will lead to workers paying more money for health care benefits.

Another big factor causing workers to vote against the contract is a perception that four years ago, the UAW and Chrysler management agreed to limit the number of Tier 2 workers at 25% of the total U.S. hourly work force. That would have boosted some entry workers to $28 per hour -- the average wage that workers hired before 2007 make.

The results from the Jefferson North Assembly vote were released days after the Free Press learned that UAW Locals representing thousands of workers across the Midwest also rejected the contract, including UAW Local 685 in Kokomo, Ind, UAW Local 1166 in Kokomo, UAW Local 372 in Trenton, UAW Local 1435 in Perrysburg, Ohio, UAW Local 1264 in Sterling Heights, and UAW Local 1248 in Center Line.

"The membership body as a whole is disappointed and I was really disappointed," Larry Noble, 65, of Detroit, who works at Trenton Engine, said Thursday. "I can see the UAW's position," Noble said, but he still believes the UAW should have been able to negotiate higher wages and more buyout offers for older workers.

So far, the only known bright spots for UAW leaders seeking to convince workers to vote yes is UAW Local 1302 in Kokomo, Ind., UAW Local 723 in Dundee and UAW Local 1284 in Chelsea.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group for the Center for Automotive Research, said it's still too early to say whether the contract will be ratified or rejected.

Workers at several large assembly plants, including the Sterling Heights Assembly, Warren Truck Assembly, Jeep Assembly Complex in Toledo and Belvidere Assembly Plant in Belvidere, Ill. as well as Mack Avenue Engine are scheduled to vote over the next three days.

"The remaining UAW locals are pretty big -- it's about 1/3 of the workforce," said Dziczek. "And since the total number of votes cast so far isn't publicly available, we don't know mathematically what margins they need to hit for it to be passed."

Contact Greg Gardner: 313-222-8762 or Follow him on Twitter @GregGardner12

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