As 40,000 United Auto Workers members begin voting Tuesday on the latest tentative agreement between the union and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, hostility that fueled an overwhelmingly majority of workers to reject the first four-year deal appears to have been dialed down to a simmer.
Since the new deal was reached just prior to a strike deadline on Oct. 7, there have been no large protests planned, social media chatter has cooled and talk on many factory floors is that the deal is far improved from the first contract that 65 percent of members with the automaker voted down.
“I am much more satisfied with this contract and I think the UAW did the best they could in the times we live in,” said Costell McIntosh, a second-tier worker with the automaker’s Sterling Stamping plant. “I also think that this shows that the union listens to its membership and tries to grant their wishes to the best of their ability.”
The union’s 37 local chapters are scheduled to host voting Tuesday and Wednesday. Some facilities are scheduled to host voting both days. No official results are expected until at least Thursday, although many local union chapters during the first round of voting used social media and union websites to release individual voting results.
Following the two-to-one rejection of the first deal, UAW President Dennis Williams and UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, head of the union’s Chrysler Department, pledged to listen to members’ concerns and bring back a deal that reflected more what rank-and-file wanted.
Many voiced opposition for the first deal because it did not bridge a gap between entry-level and veteran workers. Workers were concerned about a lack of detail on product plans at plants and a proposed health care co-op. Many were angry about a lack of communication with members.
“They’re doing a better job of explaining it this time around,” said Ken Mefford, a more than 20-year veteran worker at Warren Truck Assembly Plant. “You’re always going to have some protesters, but everything I’ve heard that this has a pretty good chance of sailing through.”
The main changes from the rejected deal include a path that over time would end a highly contested two-tier pay system; a new profit-sharing formula; and a bigger ratification bonus for veteran workers.
A proposed health care co-op in the failed deal — which had been touted as a way to save costs by pooling all workers at the three Detroit automakers — was deleted from new pact.
The latest deal, like the rejected one, does not commit to significantly changing alternative work schedules that include shifts of 10 hours or more. It does promise leaders would meet within 60 days following the contract’s ratification “to consider other alternative work schedules.”
The union also kept members informed of social media and clearly stated key points of the latest agreement.
Prior to voting, local UAW leadership held informational meetings on the latest deal that members have described as far less attended as well as contentious than the first time around.
The shortened voting schedule as well as local union leaders taking the lead at the meetings is a different from the first time around, when locals separately voted over a week and a half and Jewell was prominent at many large meetings. Jewell has attended at least one local meeting in Metro Detroit.
“They’re going to go at it in a thoughtful matter, where everybody gets a chance to view this agreement and everybody gets their questions answered,” Williams told reporters following details of the agreement being released last week.
Meanwhile, General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. bargaining teams are waiting for their turn.
Earlier this week, UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who leads the union’s GM department, issued a note in which she thanked UAW GM members for their patience and support and reminded members that “we are focusing on the issues that are unique to each operation.”
She also thanked members for “remaining level-headed and not allowing outsiders like RTW (Right to Work) to hijack this negotiation process and divide us.”
Estrada said she hopes that members will use discussion to create “even more activism as we face upcoming elections and those forces which seek to harm our rights as union members and the rights of all working families.”