Chrysler workers say “no way” for all of us

October 6, 2015

The United Auto Workers (UAW) announced last week that for the first time in over two decades, workers at Chrysler rejected a tentative contract agreement recommended by the International leadership--and did so by a wide 65 percent margin. The "no" vote was even larger at the biggest UAW locals in Toledo, Detroit and elsewhere.

The rejection was the result of both widespread resentment of the weak terms of the deal with Chrysler, which is now a part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)--especially its failure to reduce the hated two-tier wage arrangement accepted when the auto industry was in crisis in 2007--and widespread distrust of a UAW leadership that was exposed at having lied to the members about some of the terms of the previous contract.

UAW officials have yet to indicate whether they will try to renegotiate with Chrysler, force members to vote on the same contract, or put the FCA contract on hold and move on to Ford or General Motors to try for the pattern-setting first agreement. Gregg Shotwell, a retired autoworker from General Motors and Delphi and author of Autoworkers Under the Gun: Live Bait & Ammo, looks at the sources of the growing anger behind the "no" vote.

VW LIES, GM lies, Toyota lies, Ford fibs, Nixon was not a crook, Clinton didn't have sex, but the UAW doesn't prevaricate. No, the UAW simply has a "typo".

In 2011 the contract information "Highlights," which the UAW uses to inform members, promised to restore a twenty-five percent cap on the number of two-tier workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). That promise led workers to believe that many of them (roughly half of all present second tier workers at FCA) would gain top-tier wages in 2015.

The promised cap also meant that more second tier workers would grow into the top-tier as new workers were hired. But UAW-Vice President Norwood Jewell insists the real contract never included a promise to cap two-tier, and thus, promote a path to equality and solidarity.

The real contract? The bullshitter didn't blink when he revealed publicly that what he tells members at a contract information meeting, and literature the UAW distributes to sell members a contract, is worth less than a pimp's promise.

Members of UAW Local 1264 at the union's Special Bargaining Convention
Members of UAW Local 1264 at the union's Special Bargaining Convention (UAW local 1264)

"The 25 percent cap will be reinstated at the end of this contract," said a front-page letter in the 2011 contract "Highlights" from then UAW President Bob King and UAW-VP General Holiefield. "All workers in excess of the 25 percent cap will be [sic] begin receiving the same wages as traditional Chrysler workers."

Well, there was a typo, and hence the [sic], but the fact of the matter is that Jewell publicly admitted that the UAW couldn't be trusted at the same time he was hustling to sell a deal that proposes to move work to Mexico, does not secure production jobs in UAW plants, and blows perfidious smoke about a health care co-op which is sure to eat up raises with high deductibles, co-pays, and budget busting premiums.

This tentative UAW contract, which members soundly voted down, multiplies tier-wage divisions and forever decimates solidarity. Instead of cost-of-living-adjustments, which compound and accrue, workers' fortunes are tied to the tail of the profit sharing kite, a delight as predictable as the wind in Michigan.

The "Highlights" are so bad that dissidents don't even feel compelled to write the "Lowlights." The flaws are brass band blatant. Where will it end?

RETIREES LIVE on fixed incomes, but the pensions of top-tier workers at FCA were fixed in 2009 before they even got to retire. Second tier workers, unable to compensate on cut-rate wages for the abandonment of pensions, are fixing to work till they die, or limp away on SSDI--government funded disability income.

The policy of dumping injured workers onto government rolls amounts to socialism for corporations and broken dreams for Americans.

In 2011 Sean McAlinden from the Center for Automotive Research [CAR] said "job promises in the new contracts were largely misread by the 113,000 UAW workers covered by the agreements." In 2015 there are no job promises to read. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne is still shuffling the deck with the calm confidence of a dealer with four aces in his sleeve.

Union officials like to use the small pie analogy as they dish out excuses, but workers can see the optical illusion for what it is: a fat lie. McAlinden told attendees at a CAR conference this past June that labor costs at the Detroit Three are "less important than in the past."

Labor costs at FCA have been reduced $2396 per vehicle since 2007. Where's that slice going?

"In the U.S. auto industry, real wages have declined 24 percent since 2003," according to CAR. Marchionne took home $1.4 million a week in 2014 and that doesn't include his expense account. You can bet he doesn't even pay for cigarettes.

Back in 2011 CAR admitted that "white-collar labor costs in the United States will exceed their blue-collar labor costs." The gap is expanding and workers bear the brunt of the load.

Speed-up, reduced break time, no sick days, and alternative work schedules that eliminate over time pay exacerbate stress. Corporations treat workers like robots--except humans don't get fixed when they break. They get scrapped and replaced.

Last year at the UAW Constitutional Convention, the Administrative Caucus raised dues purportedly to shore up the strike fund. Dave Barkholz at the Automotive News reported, "A UAW strike of Fiat Chrysler could cost the Detroit automaker close to $1 billion a week in lost revenue and would quickly lead to a shortage of several hot-selling vehicles."

But UAW President Dennis Williams is backpedaling on strike talk. Insular bureaucrats float so high above life on the shop floor, they don't have a clue how whipped up workers are.

Life in the auto factories is harder and meaner and uglier than ever. Linda Heberlie, who works at the FCA plant in Belvidere, Illinois told me. "I get up at 5:38 a.m. and go to hell."

I cannot attest that this resistance at FCA is organized, but it has reached a fever pitch. UAW members are exclaiming to union leaders, corporate heads and politicians what workers everywhere want to yell to the bosses of the world. "Go to hell!"

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