FCA, UAW talks continue with no new deal

Melissa Burden, Michael Wayland, and Michael Martinez

United Auto Workers members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV remain on the job and in the dark about , whether a new tentative agreement will be reached as bargainers continued to negotiate past the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline into Tuesday afternoon.

As of 3 p.m. Tuesday — more than 15 hours after the sides extended their existing contract “on an hour-by-hour basis” — there had been no announcement of a new deal for the roughly 35,700 union workers with Fiat Chrysler. Negotiators worked through the night in an attempt to reach a tentative deal.

UAWChryTalks tweeted about 1:40 p.m. that it had no updates to report.

Tuesday afternoon, Fiat Chrysler and UAW bargaining teams were back at the bargaining table after some had taken a break to get some sleep after working for nearly 24 hours straight. Some labor experts believe the “hour-by-hour” extension to continue bargaining indicates the sides are working toward and want to reach a deal sooner than later.

Art Schwartz, a former negotiator with GM and president of Ann Arbor-based consultancy firm Labor and Economics Associates, said Fiat Chrysler’s hour-by-hour extension was likely “to make the point to put some pressure on everybody to get it done.”

He doesn’t envision any deal getting done soon.

“It just seems traditional that this thing has to settle in the middle of the night,” he said.

Officials with both the union and automaker declined to comment on what the two sides are discussing or how long the talks are expected to continue. It is unclear how much UAW President Dennis Williams and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne have been involved.

Some UAW members, as they have during this year’s unusually quiet talks, took to social media to voice their displeasure regarding the lack of communication as the contract deadline came and went.

“Strike or no strike the lack of communication is pathetic,” wrote Nathan Jones, a Wrangler stock worker for the company, in a reply to a UAW Facebook post announcing the extension. “Destroys confidence. This could have been announced sooner.”

Others continued to show trust in union leadership, and believe no news isn’t always bad news.

“I think it’s better to just let them do their job and have faith that they’re doing a good job. Then, tell us what we got at the end,” Local 372 Chrysler Trenton Engine Plant member Cathy Smith told The Detroit News early Tuesday morning. “It’s nerve-wracking, but it’s best for everyone.”

Critical issues heading into the current talks included labor costs, health care, raises — and a potential solution to end a contentious two-tier pay system instituted in 2007 that members say has divided their factories, even though it helped save the industry during the economic downturn.

Following the announcement of Fiat Chrysler as the lead — or target — company on Sunday afternoon, negotiating teams for both sides worked well into the early morning Monday before taking a brief hiatus and returning later to work through the midnight deadline and into Tuesday morning.

Indefinite contract extensions at General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. were announced on Monday, a typical move when deals aren’t reached by the deadline. GM and Ford were back meeting Tuesday, working on what they could while waiting on FCA and the UAW.

UAW members have authorized their leaders to strike each company, if necessary. This is the first year, post-bankruptcy, that workers at Fiat Chrysler and GM are legally permitted to strike; as part of the companies’ taxpayer bailouts, strikes were forbidden until they fulfilled bailout conditions.

In a Tuesday afternoon update, UAW-Ford department Vice President Jimmy Settles told members a strike was a last resort and “we are not at that point.”

He said most subcommittees have reached tentative agreements on certain aspects of the contract, but “larger economic issues remain.”

“While Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is setting the pattern by negotiating first, we stand ready and able to complete our negotiations,” Settles said. “As UAW President Dennis Williams and Vice President Norwood Jewell continue to bargain with FCA it is imperative that we, the UAW-Ford members, stand with our brothers and sisters at FCA in solidarity and support.”

Many local UAW chapters for Fiat Chrysler were prepared to strike and walk out of the factories, if necessary.

Victor Quiroz, president of UAW Local 230 in California, which represents a Mopar parts plant, said “everybody was ready to go” as the deadline hit, and continue to be prepared.

“We’re on a standby, hour-by-hour,” he said, adding no one had walked out an hour and 40 minutes after the deadline passed. “Everybody is waiting on the international to let us know.”

At least four other local unions representing Fiat Chrysler workers on Monday had notified workers of strike instructions: UAW Local 1264, which represents some workers at the Sterling Stamping Plant; Local 412, which represents workers at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant; UAW Local 12 in Toledo, which represents workers at the Toledo Assembly Complex; and Local 1302 at Kokomo Transmission Plant in Indiana.

It’s typical for local unions to send out strike instructions, just in case a strike occurs.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the Industry and Labor Group at the Center for Automotive Research, said she expected Fiat Chrysler’s contract would be extended if a deal had not been reached by the deadline.

“I don’t expect a big walkout at midnight ... because they’re going to give bargaining all the chance they can until they reach an impasse and things fall apart, if they do,” she said.

Marchionne canceled his scheduled trip to attend the International Motor Show on Tuesday in Frankfurt, Germany. The automaker said Marchionne was staying in the U.S. to focus on contract negotiations with the UAW.

Analysts say it was a sign Marchionne was serious to get a deal done and could indicate the two sides are closing in on an agreement.

“It’s an interesting turn from the last time when he was waiting around for Mr. King to show up and he was left standing at the altar essentially,” Dziczek said. “It shows that it’s important to him because certainly the Frankfurt show is important to his company.”

In negotiations in 2011, Marchionne flew from the Frankfurt show to Auburn Hills to lock in a deal the day before the contract expired and to meet with former UAW President Bob King. But King was locked in negotiations with GM, and Marchionne’s calls to King’s cellphone went unanswered. Marchionne dashed off a letter to King that accused him of disrespecting the automaker because it was the smallest. Chrysler-UAW talks were derailed and an agreement didn’t come until nearly a month later.

To some, Fiat Chrysler’s selection as the lead company came as a surprise. Fiat Chrysler is the smallest of the three companies and the least profitable. Analysts had expected it would be the most difficult company for the union to reach a tentative agreement with, given that about 45 percent of its hourly workers are second-tier and lower-paid.

Many also have expressed displeasure over alternative work schedules and employees have received sharply lower profit-sharing and bonuses than Ford and GM workers.

Dziczek predicts that the tentative agreement with Fiat Chrysler and the union will include raising wages of entry-level workers from the current top wage of $19.28 an hour. Veteran first-tier workers earn about $28 an hour.

“I would expect that they would not aggressively grow second-tier into the top-tier wage or higher wage, that whatever they do to resolve second-tier would be at a more moderate phase if Fiat Chrysler is setting the pattern,” she said.