UAW Workers at Chrysler Go on Strike

Unions Loosing Grip?

National strikes have become rare, largely because of the waning influence of labor unions. i i

National strikes have become rare, largely because of the waning influence of labor unions. There were just 20 strikes and lockouts involving more than 1,000 people last year. That compares with 470 a little more than a half-century ago, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lindsay Mangum, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lindsay Mangum, NPR
National strikes have become rare, largely because of the waning influence of labor unions.

National strikes have become rare, largely because of the waning influence of labor unions. There were just 20 strikes and lockouts involving more than 1,000 people last year. That compares with 470 a little more than a half-century ago, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lindsay Mangum, NPR

Thousands of Chrysler LLC autoworkers began walking off the job Wednesday after the company and the United Auto Workers union failed to agree on a tentative contract agreement before a union-imposed deadline.

It would be the first UAW strike against Chrysler since 1997, when one plant was shut down for a month, and the first strike against the automaker during contract talks since 1985. There was no immediate word from the union or Chrysler after the late morning deadline passed on whether it was a nationwide strike.

The UAW, which must reach new four-year agreements with all three Detroit automakers, struck against General Motors Corp. for two days before agreeing on a tentative pact with the automaker on Set. 26. The union has not yet settled with Ford Motor Co.

Chrysler has 24 U.S. manufacturing facilities, including 10 assembly plants, but not all would be affected by a strike. The automaker already planned to idle five assembly plants and some factories that make parts for short stretches during the next two weeks in an effort to adjust its inventory to a slowing U.S. automotive market.

UAW Awaiting 'Adequate' Offer

Several key issues in labor negotiations between the UAW and Chrysler remained unresolved Wednesday ahead of the 11 a.m. strike deadline.

In a memo to local union leaders, the UAW said it would stop extending its contract with Chrysler at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, but that deadline passed with no announcement from the union. The contract was supposed to expire Sept. 14, but has been extended since then.

"The company has thus far failed to make an offer that adequately addresses the needs of our membership," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW's chief Chrysler negotiator, General Holiefield, said in the memo sent out Monday.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson declined to comment early Wednesday. Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson would say only that the talks continued through the night.

Chrysler's deadline comes as UAW members at General Motors Corp. wrap up voting on their own tentative contract. The UAW was expected to announce Wednesday whether a majority of GM's union members approved the agreement, which was reached Sept. 26 after the two-day strike. Contracts cannot go into effect until workers approve them.

David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., said Tuesday that it appeared the GM contract would be ratified with about 60 percent of the vote despite protests from some members. The historic agreement establishes lower pay for some workers and puts GM's retiree debt into a UAW-run trust fund in exchange for promises of future work at U.S. plants.

Chrysler Wants Different Deal

Typically, the union crafts an agreement with one Detroit automaker and then persuades the other two to match its terms. But it was clear that Chrysler wanted a different deal than the one given to GM. The UAW is expected to bargain with Ford Motor Co. last.

Chrysler entered the talks seeking health care cost concessions that the UAW already granted to GM and Ford in 2005. Bargaining also has centered on how much Chrysler would pay into a company-funded, union-run trust that would take over its unfunded retiree health care costs, estimated at $18 billion.

The union agreed to the creation of such a trust last month in GM's contract, but GM needed the trust more than Chrysler because it has 340,000 retirees and surviving spouses — compared with 78,000 at Chrysler — and billions more in retiree health care obligations.

Also at issue are the union's desire for job security pledges at U.S. factories and Chrysler's wish to contract out parts transportation now done by higher-wage union members, according to a person briefed on the talks.

At factories and union halls across the Detroit area Tuesday, workers filled out paperwork for strike pay and signed up for picket duty.

Some workers said they didn't know what to expect from the talks because Chrysler recently became a private company. DaimlerChrysler AG, which is now called Daimler AG, finalized the sale of a majority share in Chrysler to the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP in August, shortly after the contract talks began.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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