No announcement follows UAW leaders’ meeting

Michael Wayland and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers leaders met into the night Thursday with no decision announced about the union’s next move, following membership’s rejection of a tentative deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Leadership from across the country was expected at the meeting in Warren to discuss the union’s next move after 65 percent of members voted against the tentative contract, which would have covered 40,000 workers with the automaker. No decision was announced following the five-and-a-half hour meeting, which concluded just before 9 p.m.

The union has at least three choices: return to the negotiating table with the automaker; strike against Fiat Chrysler; or move on to General Motors Co. or Ford Motor Co.

In a statement released mid-Thursday, UAW President Dennis Williams hinted that the union would like to return to the bargaining table with Fiat Chrysler, saying the UAW-Fiat Chrysler national bargaining committee and council would “gather the issues; notify FCA that further discussions are needed.”

Williams played down the contract rejection — the first since 1982 at Chrysler — as “part of the process” that the union prides itself on.

“As I said at the press conference: What I love about our organization most of all is that no matter what we do, what action we take, the ultimate decision and the power of the union is our members and they make the final decision. That is the design of our constitution and who we are ... . We don’t consider this a setback; we consider the membership vote a part of the process we respect.”

While the union supported its members’ voting rights and seemed open to further discussion, Fiat Chrysler was less enthusiastic.

Fiat Chrysler, in a statement, continued to support the rejected deal, saying the company was “disappointed” that membership didn’t ratify the “transformational agreement.” It said both sides worked hard on the agreement to ensure that it would “adequately reward the commitment of our workforce while ensuring the company’s continued success and competitiveness.”

“While significant progress has been made since the events of less than seven years ago, much more work remains to be done and challenges remain while new, significant ones surface,” the company said. “The cyclical nature of the automotive business demands that while we must recognize the need for rewarding employees during times of prosperity, we must also protect against the inevitable market downturn. This agreement accomplished both of these objectives.”

The company said it “will make decisions, as always, based on achieving our industrial objectives, and looks forward to continuing a dialogue with the UAW.”

A breakdown of voting for the union’s production and skilled trades workers was not immediately available.

‘The people have spoken’

The official results were announced just before noon Thursday. The day before, Belvidere Assembly had joined every major assembly plant within Fiat Chrysler in rejecting the deal with a majority vote.

“The people have spoken, and I’m happy to see we could all stick together,” said Rodrico Grazes, an entry-level worker at Center Line since 2010. “That’s really all you can say.”

Grazes, who would receive lower pay than other workers because he’s with Mopar, said while he’s happy the contract was rejected, he doesn’t believe striking is the best option: “Everyone loses in that situation.”

Industry insiders told The Detroit News that the likelihood of a local or national strike for the union against Fiat Chrysler significantly increased following rejection.

Many union members have been agitating for a strike, almost since negotiations began. This is for the first time since the 2007 talks that workers at Fiat Chrysler and General Motors Co. have the ability to strike; the UAW gave up that right for the 2011 talks as a condition of GM and Chrysler’s government bailouts.

A strike could come about in more than one way. The union could call a national strike or target one plant that, if prolonged, would cause a ripple effect on production and cripple operations across a company. That helps the UAW limit strike benefits it would need to pay.

Local unions also could go to UAW leaders and request a strike over local agreements, which was the case for the two Flint plants in 1998. Local plant contracts are negotiated separately from the national contract.

Threats of a strike against Ford already have been raised over dissatisfaction with a local contract at the Kansas City Assembly Plant. That plant produces the highly profitable Ford F-150. UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles said Tuesday that he received approval from the international union for a strike at the plant by Local 249. The Dearborn automaker was given until Sunday to reach a tentative local contract with the Kansas City local.

Local 249 leadership in a Facebook post on Thursday said the plant’s “Super Sunday” shift — an overtime shift in which workers receive double the normal pay rate — had been canceled. The plant could strike at 1 p.m. Sunday if a deal is not reached.

GM, Ford wait

GM CEO Mary Barra said she and her team have regular dialogue with Williams.

“It’s their choice how they resolve where they go next,” Barra told analysts and investors Thursday at GM’s Global Business Conference

She would not comment directly on potential costs of a new contract with the UAW.

“We’re going to continue to understand what the issues are and look for creative solutions that meet both the needs of the company to remain competitive and meet the needs of the workforce and the UAW,” she said. “We’re going to continue to have that dialogue. It doesn’t change through this period of negotiations.”

Ford in a statement Thursday said, “We look forward to negotiating a fair and competitive labor agreement that enables us to continue providing jobs and investment here in the U.S., and that ensures a prosperous future for the company, our employees and our communities.”

Staff Writer Michael Martinez contributed.