UAW leaders take Fiat Chrysler contract to membership

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers leadership is attempting to address questions and concerns of 40,000 union members with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV before they vote on a tentative four-year deal in the coming week.

Leaders, including UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell, started meeting with local chapters over the weekend to discuss the proposed contract, as local chapters schedule informational meetings.

Jewell, a who led negotiations with the automaker, tried to ease concerns Sunday at UAW Local 1700, which represents workers in Sterling Heights.

“I don’t have a magic wand, but I’ll stand here and try to do everything I can to fight for every one of you,” Jewell said in a video made at the meeting that was posted on social media. “And if you go back and check my track record, that’s the way I’ve been my whole career.”

His comments, which received mixed reactions, came after a tense conversation and complaints about two-tier wages, temporary workers and other issues. Jewell said the union didn’t get all of its demands and neither did the company.

“We’re living to fight another day, and we got to figure out that other day between now and then. How we fix this ... country? I’m telling you, that’s the problem,” he said. “It ain’t us. It ain’t the UAW. We want to give everybody the same wages. We just can’t afford to do it in this country.”

The union, Jewell said, isn’t as large as it once was and continues to face pressure on labor costs due to transplants as well as Mexico, where Fiat Chrysler, under the deal, would move car production in exchange for pickups, SUVs and crossovers.

The tentative deal provides raises for all workers; hefty profit-sharing based on the company’s North American operations; $3,000 ratification bonuses; $5.3 billion in plant investments; and narrows pay gaps between entry and veteran workers. It does not eliminate contentious issues such as two-tier pay and alternative work schedules, or return members back a cost-of-living-adjustment that they gave up some years ago. There’s also some confusion about the announced health care co-op, which Jewell previously said will not increase costs for members.

Charles Bell, president of Local 1700, said in an email to The Detroit News: “The meeting was filled with very vocal members that were comfortable asking tough questions and with the expectation of an honest and clear answer. The democratic process of the UAW was clearly in effect.”

Staff writer Michael Martinez contributed.