UAW pledges new approach to members for FCA deal

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers leaders are promising to handle a second round of contract talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV differently than the first discussions that culminated with membership overwhelmingly voting down a tentative four-year deal.

In separate messages published online Monday, UAW President Dennis Williams and Vice President Norwood Jewell said they will not only address members’ issues with the contract itself, but communicate better with updates between leadership and the 40,000 rank-and-file with Fiat Chrysler.

“Our responsibility is to you, the membership,” Williams said in a message to employees Sunday that was posted online Monday morning. “We are going to continue to bargain on your behalf. We are also going to tell the whole story. This is a very serious situation. I ask that you get the facts as we continue to address your issues.”

Both messages were blunt and encouraged members to not be influenced by outside influences and get their information from or the union’s official Facebook page.

“This would have been good to do two weeks ago,” said Kristin Dziczek, Center for Automotive Research director of Industry & Labor Group. “There’s greater explanation in this letter than the membership have had in print prior to this.”

Jewell’s message — published Monday afternoon — promised that updates on negotiations would be published “as they become available,” which would be a significant change from leadership asking membership to be patient and wait until a tentative contract was reached.

“Your voice was clear and we have headed back to address the issues that were raised,” he said in the statement Monday afternoon. “It is encouraging when so many others say unions are not relevant, that our UAW-FCA membership sees it differently.”

Jewell said more than 80 percent, or 32,000, of the union’s 40,000 members with Fiat Chrysler participated in the first contract ratification process. Sixty-five percent of members voted against the deal.

Aside from communication, many Fiat Chrysler workers had voiced displeasure with terms of the proposed deal, saying it does not eliminate the 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.

“You have spoken and we heard you. We have been listening to your issues and concerns through your local union leadership,” Williams said. “We have real challenges. We all know that without investment and product there is no true job security.

“For someone to suggest we endorse products going to Mexico is just nonsense. We have been fighting NAFTA and other trade agreements every day and are still fighting.”

The statement regarding Mexico is in reference to a $5.3 billion investment plan under the failed deal that included moving most of the automaker’s car production to Mexico in exchange for more profitable SUVs, pickups and crossovers.

Neither the union nor company have confirmed the product moves, which includes moving production of two cars to Mexico — the Chrysler 200 currently built at Sterling Heights Assembly, and the Dodge Dart currently built at Belvidere. In return, Sterling Heights would get the Ram 1500 pickup from Warren Truck, and Warren would get the Jeep Wagoneer — a three-row SUV that isn’t due until at least 2018.

Williams’ message goes on to say that the proposed health care co-op is not like the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association for retirees; that “outside groups like to stir people up”; and that union leadership is fighting for its membership.

“We met with the UAW-FCA local union leadership at great length and are fighting to address your issues taking everything into consideration with all the challenges,” Williams said.

The update comes days after The Detroit News and other news media reported that the union would like to return to Fiat Chrysler rather than immediately striking or moving on to Ford Motor Co. or General Motors Co. All remain options, depending on how the talks go.

A Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman on Monday confirmed that the automaker is “talking” with the union but would not elaborate on details. Following the first deal’s rejection, the company issued a lengthy statement saying it was “disappointed” by the outcome of the voting but looked “forward to continuing dialogue with the UAW.”

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

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