UAW-Chrysler contract yields small bonuses, no raises for veteran auto workers, again
"Arbitration is looking better than voting for this contract ... VOTE 'NO,' " Chrysler worker Bob Weatherholt said just before 5 p.m. today as the end of business approached.
"Eighteen (years) with UAW Chrysler and this is what I get slapped in the face with."
One highlight of the deal: The return of tuition-assistance money for UAW members who enroll in college.
One bone of contention: A slow-pay $3,500 signing bonus. Besides being considerably smaller than the cash payouts the UAW won for workers from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., Chrysler's bonus comes with strings and is supposed to be paid in two increments: $1,750 upon ratification and the rest only if certain company money incentives are met, making it a merit bonus that might or might not actually get paid out.
Chrysler's unionized workforce also gets profit-sharing money determined similarly to the GM and Ford deals, a $500-per-person "quality bonus" per year through 2015 and a $2,000-per-person "inflation bonus" payable in four installments in each of the next four years. People who show up for work when they're supposed to also will collect a $300 "attendance bonus."
If knee-jerk reaction is any indication, this contract is headed for rejection. Many Chrysler UAW members are angry and are complaining loudly that their deal stinks when compared with Ford Motor and GM agreements.
On a Facebook page, unionized workers from Chrysler were howling about the disparate deals even before the contract announcement was made today. After details emerged, they were even more cantankerous.
John Widmar of Racine, Wisc.: "Everyone on this page needs to spread the word to their workers at their plants to vote NO!!!!!!"
John DeJack of St. Louis: "This is a insult to all Chrysler UAW workers. ... Vote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote NooooooooVote No Vote no Vote no Vote Noooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Nick Taylor of Beloit, Wisc.: "INSULTING!!!!! Thought the union stood for fairness and equality!?!?! How is this offer anywhere near that!?!?"
On the Facebook page, Chrysler's bargainers responded to critics. "The best interests of the membership were discussed at the table before every vote, and your best interests were fought for every step of the way. It is a thankless job, but we stand united behind our team." A few days earlier the bargainers admonished posters to refrain from personal attacks because the in-house discussion had boiled into acrimony. Things got particularly hot when some UAW members used Facebook forums to criticize UAW leaders who get jobs for friends and relatives at Chrysler at the expense of everyday UAW members who don't have any pull.
"Well, I think this worked out well for our union leaders," said Leon Southerland, a Chrysler worker from Clinton Township, Mich., a suburb northeast of Detroit. "I think most of their friends and relatives are the Tier II workers."
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler, stuck to his guns and won big on one important point with this contract. Unlike GM and Ford Motor, Marchionne won the right for Chrysler to hire as many entry-level workers as it wants until 2015. There are plans now to create 2,100 American UAW jobs at Chrysler.
The so-called entry-level Tier II workers are paid $14.65 hourly now but get a pay bump to $19.28 hourly, which is well below the $28-$30 per hour a typical veteran auto worker makes working for any of the Detroit Three. Veteran workers get no pay increase under the deal. Their last pay raise was in 2003.
General Holiefield, a UAW negotiator, told reporters: “Naturally we would have wanted to do a lot more for the Chrysler workers. They saved our jobs for us, and we want to do everything we can to repay them.”
Getting raises for the new people and allowing the company to hire as many of them as it wants is good for the union and Chrysler, UAW President Bob King said.
Hiring newcomers keeps wages affordable for Chrysler as it seeks to re-establish itself as a profitable automaker and creates dues-paying newcomers for the UAW. But as many veteran workers have pointed out, it does nothing for them at all except let them keep their jobs.
Chrysler announced an aggressive investment schedule in its U.S. plants while confirming that a tentative contract had been reached. Factories that will gain $4.5 billion in investment include two in Michigan (Sterling Heights and Trenton), one in nearby Toledo and one in Kokomo, Ind.
Hawke Fracassa covers the auto beat from Detroit for TN. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @HawkeFracassa.
Image: The Chrysler 300 is one of Chrysler's most popular cars this year. Photo courtesy Chrysler Group LLC.