Chrysler Workers Object to Imposed Contract

The executive board of the Auto Workers imposed the contract with Chrysler on the entire membership this week, despite the fact that a majority of skilled trades workers and a substantial minority of production workers voted against the agreement.

The UAW reported Wednesday that 54.8 percent of Chrysler’s 26,000 hourly workers had voted yes, but 55.6 percent of the 5,000 skilled trades workers had turned down the deal. Instead of reopening the contract provisions covering skilled trades, the union leadership hastily approved the deal.

The company and our union leadership are refusing to address our legitimate concerns, with the rationale being that our biggest complaints were just about “economics.” This is not true. As skilled trades workers, we are extremely concerned about the integrity of our respective trades, work rules, safety, training, maintaining lines of demarcation, and prohibiting the outsourcing of our work.

Skilled trades workers on the shop floor have been denied a voice in the decision to accept the contract, made less than 24 hours after the last vote was cast at the Warren Truck plant. Trades workers had been adamant in their opposition to the brutal restructuring of their work, misnamed skilled trades “rationalization.”

The skilled workforce at Chrysler has seen its numbers cut from 12,000 to 5,000 since reductions began under the 2003-2007 agreement. If our union had opposed this program, skilled trades workers would have applauded their efforts.

How many skilled workers will be left in the plants at the end of this contract? More than 30 skill sets will be reduced to five. There will be three “working groups” where trades workers are supposed to give each other on-the-job training.

Skeleton Force

Under the expanded “autonomous maintenance” program, production workers are forced to take over many of our daily tasks. Outsourcing will continue. Building maintenance will now be done exclusively by outside contractors. Tradespeople whose classifications are being eliminated will have to transfer to a “related trade” where they will be at the bottom of the seniority list for three years. Brick masons, carpenters, painters and other building tradespeople will have to exit skilled trades or find their way back through another apprenticeship.

Eventually there will be too few of us to keep up with the variety of unfamiliar tasks we will be asked to perform, and safety will suffer.

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This is the result of an aggressive, multi-pronged corporate scheme to eliminate skilled trades positions, eventually leaving only a skeleton force to handle emergency situations.

While we have our particular complaints, UAW-represented skilled trades workers at Chrysler share the hopes and aspirations of production workers for fair and equal compensation for our labor. We hope that by rejecting this agreement we can also reject the company’s plan to use two-tier jobs to divide our union against itself.

We note that there is no contract language mandating the job creation promised. The press says 2,100 jobs will be created, but the figure is merely a projection based on corporate investment plans. These investments will bring in the newest, most capital-intensive technology, designed to make more vehicles with fewer workers. Moreover, these new jobs are not being “created” if they represent work in-sourced from other countries.

This imposed “ratification” by the UAW leadership is yet another example of the union’s failure to confront Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. According to the 2009 Chrysler bailout agreement, we would be forced into arbitration if we rejected the contract. We feel it was wrong for the union to use the fear of arbitration in their massive propaganda effort to win ratification. And the union’s implied threat to move new work to locals that approved the contract was unconscionable. Without this fear factor, we are sure the contract would have been shot down by the entire membership.

We call on President Bob King and Vice President General Holiefield to hold meetings at every local to allow the tradespeople to explain why they voted no. They should go back to the table and inform Marchionne of the changes needed for a fairly ratified agreement.

Chrysler released its third-quarter results one day after UAW officials decided the contract was ratified.

The company made a profit of $212 million. The UAW needs no further proof that the company can afford to treat its workers fairly.


Martha Grevatt and Alex Wassell are skilled trades workers at Chrysler Warren Stamping in Warren, Michigan.