Chrysler Workers Strike as Contract Talks Stall Chrysler workers are walking off the job across the United States for the first time in a decade. The strike follows stalled contract talks between the United Auto Workers union and Chrysler.
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Chrysler Workers Strike as Contract Talks Stall

Hear NPR's Frank Langfitt

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: murder for hire, shakedowns, kidnappings. Those are just a few of the alleged crimes committed by a bunch of rogue cops in Chicago.

COHEN: But first, thousands of Chrysler workers have walked off the job today. This is the second auto strike in recent weeks, and the first strike at Chrysler in a decade.

NPR's labor reporter Frank Langfitt is following the story. Frank, welcome back to DAY TO DAY.


COHEN: So Chrysler and the United Auto Workers had been negotiating for days. They'd been talking for about 25 hours straight when today's deadline arrived, but there's still no deal. What are the big issues here?

LANGFITT: Well, just as in the last negotiations with General Motors, it probably comes down to job security and health care. Chrysler's looking to unload about $18 billion in retiree health care. It wants to put it in a trust fund and get the union to take it over, but there could be a dispute over how much Chrysler's willing to put in there.

For the union, it's really all about job security. In this really difficult market, they're looking to save jobs. And with GM, the way they broke the strike with GM last month was they got GM to agree to a lot products in a lot plants. And then that allow the UAW to go back and get commitments from its own workers so they would, in fact, vote. And today, we're going to hear probably whether, in fact, they voted on a contract and ratified it with GM.

COHEN: Are there any differences between Chrysler's negotiations with the union now and these recent talks with General Motors?

LANGFITT: Well, yeah, there's one worth looking at, and it's back in 2005. The union gave up about $340 million in health care benefits back to General Motors and Ford. But at the time, Daimler, which owned Chrysler, they were doing a lot better. They were profitable, and the union wouldn't give them the money back. And later when Daimler got rid of Chrysler and sold it to Cerberus - a private equity firm - they complained a lot about this and said it put them at a really big disadvantage. And since then, of course, Chrysler's been struggling. I mean, it lost $680 million last year. And they also have the highest wages among the Detroit three automakers, about 75 bucks an hour with wages and benefits.

COHEN: And Cerberus, this private equity firm, they just took the ownership of this company relatively recently. Is there any sense of what kind of impact this strike could have on the company and on the union?

LANGFITT: Well, one of the questions for Cerberus, especially with the job security issue, is are they willing to commit to a lot of jobs and a lot of products in plants? I mean, they're in the middle of a difficult turnaround. They're looking to actually cut some products, and these contracts last for four years. So one of the questions is would Cerberus really be willing to make the same kind of commitments that GM was willing to make? And I think that, as we hear more later today from the UAW and maybe from Cerberus, we may find out that that was a big sticking point.

COHEN: But for the time being, no concerns about PT Cruisers running out at the lots?

LANGFITT: No, not really. You know, one of the - this is kind of, you know, it tells us a lot about the way the market is today. You know, Chrysler has an average inventory of 71 days. There's not a lot of demand for a lot of their vehicles. And I think that the company could go on for a number of weeks and still do pretty well. They can still sell a lot of stuff off their lots because their lots are full of things. Now over time, some of the newer models, like Chrysler minivan and jeeps, which are really quite popular, they could run out much more quickly.

COHEN: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Alex.

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