FCA-UAW deal under fire before key votes

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Update: This article was changed from a previous version to include that Belvidere Assembly Plant will vote Wednesday, not Monday. According to an update from the local union, the change was “due to feedback from membership” to separate the Monday informational meetings and voting.

Toledo — Approval of the tentative four-year contract between the United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is in jeopardy after a majority of workers voted “no” at several large facilities, including Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit.

But UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell insisted Sunday it’s still “mathematically” possible for the contract to be ratified.

Jefferson North results were confirmed Sunday, and they were decisive: 66 percent of production workers voted against the contract, as did 77 percent of skilled trades workers. Balloting at the plant, which employs about 4,400 hourly workers, took place Friday.

The fate of the contract should become clear by Tuesday. Four major plants that employ more than 16,000 of the roughly 40,000 employees under the contract are scheduled to vote by then. The plants, part of a proposed $5.3 billion U.S. investment plan under the deal, are Warren Truck Plant (voting Monday), Sterling Heights Assembly Plant and Toledo Assembly Complex (voting Tuesday), and Belvidere Assembly in Illinois (Wednesday).

Belvidere workers were previously expected to vote Monday. However, according to an update from the local union, was changed to Wednesday “due to feedback from membership” to separate the informational meetings and voting.

Warren Truck actually started voting last week, but due to a ballot error is expected to finish Monday.

Jewell told The Detroit News on Sunday he couldn’t predict the outcome of the voting. “Mathematically, it’s still possible,” he said before speaking at an informational meeting for Toledo Assembly Complex workers with UAW Local 12 in Toledo. “My job right now is to explain things, answer all their questions and let some of them vent.”

Workers at Trenton Engine Complex and Toledo Machinery showed their displeasure Friday by overwhelmingly casting ballots that rejected the deal. Majorities also voted “no” Friday at Sterling Stamping and at Local 685 in Kokomo, Indiana, which represents nearly 6,000 workers at several facilities. A majority voted “no” Thursday at a casting plant in Kokomo.

A majority of all workers at Dundee Engine are believed to have supported the pact, as did some salaried units. It is difficult to calculate the overall popular vote because most results are being reported to members by percentages, not single votes.

Many workers have voiced displeasure with the proposed deal, saying it does not eliminate the contentious two-tier pay system, fails to cap entry-level hires, doesn’t do enough to address alternative work schedules and doesn’t increase wages enough.

‘We’re upset’

“We’re upset with our representation,” said Darius Simpson, an entry-level worker at Toledo Assembly Complex. “People are asking good questions, but they’re not getting answered.”

Simpson, 22, was one of thousands of UAW Local 12 members with Toledo Assembly who gathered on Sunday in downtown Toledo to discuss the contract. Members of the news media were not allowed in the meeting, which lasted more than three hours. Simpson described the meeting as “tense” but “controlled.”

Nearly three hours into the meeting, which had law enforcement on hand, at least one man was escorted out by union officials.

More than 40 workers protested outside, chanting “Hell no, vote no” and “Hell no, Sergio” (referencing Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne). Signs ranged from “No more tiers” to “Say no to broken promises.”

“Broken promises” has been a theme since details were announced Sept. 18. Some workers have said the union deceived them by not reinstating a 25 percent cap on the entry-level, or tier-two, workers. About 45 percent, or 16,500, of Fiat Chrysler’s 36,600 union production workers are second-tier workers.

According to the 2011 contract summary, a 25 percent cap on entry-level workers would be “reinstated at the end of the contract, as outlined in the bankruptcy settlement agreement.” At that time, all workers in excess of that percentage were expected to receive “the same wages as traditional Chrysler workers.”

“I think we should all get paid equal,” said Kenneth McCarthey Jr., who was hired into Toledo Assembly in 2013. “They never kept their word.”

When asked about the cap, Jewell said the union negotiates “contract by contract,” and leaders attempted to do the best for all of the second-tier workers, not just a certain percentage.

“We’re trying to eliminate that and do something that made the most sense for everybody,” he said. “It’s getting misconstrued … it’s just difficult.”

‘Best agreement since ’99’

Many members, according to Jewell, have misunderstand parts of the contract, including the health care co-op, attendance policy and wage system. He said many have negative preconceived notions from what they’ve seen on social media.

“This is the best agreement since ’99 because things have been going in the wrong direction since then,” Jewell said. “People got their issues because they don’t understand a lot of it. The social media is putting out more bad information than good.”

Many have loudly voiced opposition to the deal online, starting Facebook groups for members to post their “no” votes and offensive memes about Marchionne, Jewell and other company and union officials.

Some workers also have voiced concerns about a lack of information about a new union-led health care co-op, which Jewell has said will not increase charges to members. Some retirees also have voiced concerns, as the deal does not provide many benefits for them.

“We feel we don’t have proper representation. We gave up so much with the bankruptcy,” Diana Spalding, a Chrysler retiree, said Sunday during a non-union event in Toledo. “I think (the proposal) needs to go back and reworked ... There are a lot of things that are questionable, and it’s not enough.

The proposal includes $3,000 ratification bonuses (down from $3,500 in 2011); wage hikes for both tiers of plant workers; hefty profit-sharing based on the company’s North American operations; and $5.3 billion in plant investments. It narrows pay gaps between entry and veteran workers.

There would essentially be four wage, or classification, systems: veteran at about $28 an hour or more; current tier-two topping out at $25.35 an hour; and Mopar and axle operators at $22 and $22.35, respectively.

Jewell said, “We thought we pushed the envelope and got them some really good increases in their standard of living and still got the company to agree to invest. That’s what we believed our job was. It’s the long-term, not just tomorrow.

“I feel good about what we negotiated. It may not be what people wanted, but I don’t believe we did some terrible job.”

Numerous workers who talked with The Detroit News on Sunday voiced displeasure with losing the Jeep Cherokee as well as the way Marchionne announced the Jeep Wrangler’s fate (through an interview with industry publication Automotive News).

Under the tentative pact and $5.3 billion investment plan, Toledo Assembly would keep its prized Wrangler, but lose the hot-selling Jeep Cherokee to Belvidere Assembly to make more room for Wrangler production. Neither the union or company have confirmed the product moves, but The News and other media outlets earlier this month reported at least five vehicles and four U.S. plants would be involved.

The moves also would include: Production of the Dodge Dart at Belvidere as well as production of the Chrysler 200 at Sterling Heights Assembly moving to Mexico. Sterling Heights would in turn get the Ram 1500 pickup from Warren Truck, and Warren would get the Jeep Wagoneer — a three-row SUV that isn’t due out until at least 2018.

Skilled trades and production workers must separately cast a majority of “yes” ballots for the contract to be ratified.

If the contract is not ratified, leaders could go back to the bargaining table with Fiat Chrysler; a strike could occur; or the union could switch their attention to Ford Motor Co. or General Motors Co., with which the UAW continues negotiating after contracts were extended indefinitely earlier this month.

Jewell said officials would work to hammer out concerns if the contract is rejected: “It won’t be the first time. I’ve watched other contracts get turned down. You sit down, listen to the membership and try to figure out is it just misunderstandings … and then go back to the drawing board.”


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UAW-Fiat Chrysler voting results


Skilled trades

Hourly employees





Local 7 - Jefferson North






Local 230 - Los Angeles parts






Local 372 - Trenton Engine






Local 685 - Kokomo/Tipton






Local 1166 - Kokomo Casting






Local 1248 - Mopar Warren






Local 1264 - Sterling Stamping






Local 1435 - Toledo Machining






Source: Detroit News research