Chrysler Workers Walk Out as Deadline Looms

Workers at Chrysler auto plants were walking off the job after a late-morning strike deadline passed. The United Auto Workers union has not officially announced a strike, but workers were starting to take strike assignments and picket signs.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Okay, here's the latest we know about Chrysler. Workers are walking off the job at Chrysler plants today. A strike deadline passed in the last 20 minutes or so with no word of an agreement between Chrysler and the United Auto Workers. So we've put in a call to Dustin Dwyer. He's with Michigan Radio, and he's at the United Auto Workers Hall in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Dustin, welcome to the program.

DUSTIN DWYER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see where you are?

DWYER: Well, where I am, workers here are getting their strike assignment. They started walking in right around 11:00 o'clock. They started pouring in from the plant. There's a little - a long table of picket signs, and they're picking up their signs. They're signing up for their shifts, and they're walking out on the line here.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned 11:00 o'clock. We should say, of course, that's Eastern Time, and that in fact was the strike deadline. Is there official word that's been passed down of a strike as you and I speak here?

DWYER: No, that I can't say for sure. I would just handed a piece of paper by one of the officials here at the UAW Local 1264. That's an order. It says that all Chrysler plants will be on strike with the exception of five plants, and these are plants - it looks like the majority of them were already closed down anyway.

Chrysler has had some plants shut down this week because it had excess inventory. Sales were down. So it had already had plants that were idle, and it looks like, based on this piece of paper that I'm holding, which again has not be confirmed by the UAW International Leadership, that this piece of paper says that all these plants are on strike with the exception of five plants in the country.

INSKEEP: So what we know at this early moment is that a lot of Chrysler workers certainly think they're on strike or acting like they're on strike, not just at your Union Hall, but according to the Associated Press, at other locations at Chrysler plants around.

Now, I have to ask if the union is prepared for a long strike.

DWYER: Well, that's a good question. I think the union, technically they have plenty of money and their strike fund. I've heard at 800 to $900 million. They could last several weeks on that. Workers who are on strike will get paid $200 a week. So it's certainly possible. Now, I think people here don't want it to be a long strike. From the workers' perspective, living off of $200 a week is not easy. So while a long strike is possible, most people are hoping that it will be a short strike.

INSKEEP: Do workers as well as the company see this is a moment that could determine their future?

DWYER: Absolutely. I mean, we heard talks - heading into these negotiations this year - and all three Detroit automakers are negotiating contracts - but many people said this could be the most important contract ever negotiated for Detroit companies.

So everyone knows the stakes here, and these workers are certainly, you know, the ones who are going out on strike, they know the stakes.

INSKEEP: Everything worked out in the end, when General Motors very briefly went on strike not very long ago. The union and the GM reached an agreement that involved changing the way the health plan is paid for and other issues as well that seemed to satisfy both sides. Are matters that simple when it comes to Chrysler?

DWYER: Well, that's a good question. And you know, I should say we don't know exactly what's going on in the bargaining room, but reports suggest that they could be a little more - could be a little more complicated. Chrysler has slightly different problems. The UAW would want to have gotten the same agreement with Chrysler that it got with GM.

The fact that we have a strike right now shows that Chrysler is not willing to sign on to that same agreement. They could have some other concerns. Chrysler now, of course, is a private company. It was bought by Cerberus Capital Management. Those private owners could have different concerns. They could want to change how things that have operated here.

INSKEEP: Is there a sense that the private firms, which tend to be - try to be turnaround artists - they want to turn around the company quickly - that they may look at the long-term in a different way than GM management might?

DWYER: Right. There's some suggestions, you know, there's some reports that that could have been one of the hang-ups in the GM contract. Of course, GM agreed to guarantee on future products investment plants well into the future. Chrysler, being, you know, being a private company, may not want those guarantees.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask about the mood where you are? Are people excited, resigned, disappointed?

DWYER: You know, it's a good question. The people are sort of coming in - it's a little bit of both. I haven't seen too many long faces, but people are just sort of picking up their signs, and they're heading out the door, you know? There's a lot of people here. It's tough to say at this point, you know, what the mood is.

INSKEEP: Well, Dustin, check back in with us if you learn more.

DWYER: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio is at the United Auto Workers hall in Sterling Heights, Michigan. And that's one of the places around the country where there is every sign of a strike by Chrysler workers, although we have no official announcement yet. And we'll bring you more as we learn more.

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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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