UAW/Chrysler deal slowly failing

Having just written a UAW story. I’m not even a labour economist (hell, I don’t even drive).

Workers at three more United Auto Workers locals have rejected a tentative contract agreement between the union and Chrysler LLC, casting doubt on whether the deal will be ratified.

Although final totals from the 45,000 workers voting on the pact won’t be made known until next week, the size and locations of the locals voting no are not good signs for leaders in Detroit, said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.

“The early results are abysmal,” Shaiken said. “Members have sent a message of considerable unrest.”

Given that the UAW/GM deal barely passed, overall (65% or so for, from memory), the pessimism and bad feeling setting in is a fairly bad sign (I think), concerning the ultimate prospects. The factories voting differ somewhat, though – specifically in terms of the future expectations of workers.

… 14 of 21 factories … have no future products to make after the current product life cycle or the life of the new contract. Seven were to get future products.

… McDonaugh, who favors the contract, said the vote was better than expected because the Newark plant is slated to be closed by the company. He was appalled at locals voting down the agreement at plants with future product guarantees and accused dissidents of spreading misinformation.

Many “noncore” workers at his plant thought their pay would be cut in half to around $14 per hour under the new contract, but McDonaugh said that isn’t true.

“The language states, no current seniority worker will be assigned entry-level wages even if they are classified in non-core jobs,” McDonaugh said. “They will be on the fork trucks, handling the material and working in the tool stores until they retire, quit or die,” he said.

One can see a problem asking a plant set for closure to vote on a new contract. However, this is still a workers’ union – is there solidarity or is there not? Surely the UAW can reasonably expect it. Given the high risk of the two-tiered workforce driving big splits in unionised labour, the smooth functioning of the workforce (the power of collective bargaining when it’s only half of the collective), to see bitter votes pushing towards the first failure of ratification in a couple of decades (and maybe it’s about time?) can hardly raise smiles in union offices.

There is also the voting itself – is a majority of members, or of plants, required? Reading the AP story, it seems that their success stories come from substantially smaller plants than those at which the ratification is failing.

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