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UAW optimistic it can seal a deal with Chrysler by Wednesday

Leaders of union locals at Chrysler met with UAW President Bob King and his deputies for less than a half hour this morning at the UAW's Region 1 office in Warren, Mich. King told them his bargaining team hopes to have a four-year deal in place with the Detroit Three's smallest carmaker by Wednesday.

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While "substantial progress" has been made and UAW negotiators bargained for about four hours with Chrysler before the sun came up today to get everything done, they didn't get it done. King says they're close to consensus.

"We are still working toward an agreement," King said this morning in Warren, a Detroit suburb. "We hope to have one by Wednesday."

UAW Chrysler workers like Kevin Presley are being patient.

"This is a contract we have to live with for four years. Let's take our time and get it right," Presley said. "Stand strong Bob and all our negotiating team."

One fly in the ointment is the issue of job importation. The UAW persuaded General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., the two bigger members of the former Big Three, to siphon auto worker jobs from foreign countries like Mexico, Japan and China so they can bring them back to the United States as part of a job security and job growth initiative pushed for by the union.

Thousands of Americans will be hired, recalled from layoff or have their current positions protected because of these contracts won for the workers by King and his vice presidents. But at Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group LLC, fulfilling that same demand might get sticky.

This is because Chrysler's largest stakeholder is Italian carmaker Fiat. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne also is CEO of Fiat SpA, and he is being pressured by a metalworkers union in Italy to keep jobs in Italy. A one-day protest strike is planned for Oct. 21 at Fiat factories to send a message to Marchionne that Fiat should not take jobs from Italians to give to North Americans in Mexico and the United States, according to a Reuters report.

Since GM's pact is signed and delivered and Ford Motor's has been approved by union leadership and will be approved or rejected by the membership this week, the UAW is negotiating full bore, nights and weekends, to secure a deal with Chrysler. The Wall Street Journal reports a contract in some form "could go to the union's rank and file for a vote by the end of the week."

After King (pictured) briefs shop chairmen and other union bigwigs from UAW Chrysler locals in Warren today, the president will hold court again Wednesday with more ranking UAW bosses to ensure everyone is on the same page. Several news reports have said the UAW is "hopeful" that a tentative agreement is in the offing relatively quickly.

Richard Bryce of Chrysler UAW Local 6215 was among those standing by late Sunday, "waiting for good news."

The financials are likely to be different for Chrysler than the cookie-cutter deals the union cut with GM and Ford Motor, which were motivated to share the wealth because they're making money hand over fist right now and don't want to halt the momentum of their profits. Chrysler is on a see-saw ride financially and Marchionne wants the new pact to reflect that economic uncertainty in cash flow by allowing more entry-level auto workers to be hired and being more conservative with any payouts than GM and Ford Motor were this contract-negotiation go-round.

Marchionne contends Chrysler's financial foundation is underfunded compared with the other Detroit Three companies because it has had to dig out from a financial mess created by former owners. Marchionne seeks lower bonuses than that being paid out to auto workers by his more well-heeled GM and Ford Motor competitors and a little bit more help with co-pays for health benefits, if he is able to get that.

In Montreal on Friday to give a speech to the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Canada, Marchionne told reporters afterwards: “Some of the deals that we’ve seen being signed between Ford and GM are probably, given Chrysler’s own predicament … overly generous.”

For its part, the UAW has been consistent. It has tried from go to use a "pattern" approach of creating similar pay and benefits for unionized auto workers at all three of the companies. At GM it won entry-level workers raises to almost $20 an hour, up a few dollars hourly from the previous rate.

If the UAW and Chrysler butt heads and reach an impasse, a contract will come to pass via arbitration since the union is not allowed to strike under the terms of a 2009 bailout loan the federal government gave to Chrysler. As part of that deal, the UAW is in the unusual position of being a part-owner of Chrysler for now, and unable to strike itself.

Marchionne told the Detroit Free Press on Sunday he wants the union and its membership to agree to a pact without having to go to arbitration but "we will go there" if necessary.

You can reach TN's Hawke Fracassa at [email protected] or (248) 747-1550. Follow him on Twitter @HawkeFracassa.

Image source: Wikipedia

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