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UAW, Fiat Chrysler avoid strike; reach tentative deal

Michael Wayland, Michael Martinez, and Melissa Burden

The United Auto Workers and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles avoided a potential strike by reaching a new tentative contract before a Wednesday night deadline.

No details were released about the deal, which the union says “secured significant gains.” The agreement was announced roughly 36 hours after the union imposed the 11:59 p.m. Wednesday strike deadline and a week after 65 percent of union members voted against the first tentative deal.

The Chrysler Warren Truck plant is seen, Wednesday Oct. 7, 2015, on Mound Rd., in Warren.

“We heard from our members, and went back to FCA to strengthen their contract,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement early Thursday morning, minutes after the strike deadline passed. “We’ve reached a proposed tentative agreement that I believe addresses our members’ principal concerns about their jobs and their futures. We have made real gains and I look forward to a full discussion of the terms with our membership.”

Fiat Chrysler confirmed the tentative deal was reached, minutes after the union announced the deal on factory floors and through social media. The company declined to discuss details of the new agreement, saying it “cannot discuss the specifics of the agreement pending a vote by UAW members.”

A worker looks out of the factory door at the Chrysler Warren Truck plant, early Thursday morning Oct. 8, 2015, on Mound Rd., in Warren.

Many workers who talked to The Detroit News said they were happy that a strike was averted. It would have been the first strike for a Detroit automaker since 2007.

“I was relieved – I think a lot of people are,” said Craig Harper, a skilled tradesman at Warren Truck Plant, as he left the facility after the announcement. “I didn’t want to strike.”

The deal, according to the union, was reached after “a lengthy bargaining process.” The UAW Chrysler Council – made up of local leadership across the country –will meet at 11 a.m. Friday in Detroit to discuss and vote on the agreement. Then, it’s once again up to the 40,000 rank-and-file members at Fiat Chrysler to decide if it’s satisfactory.

Ken Mefford, a 20-year veteran worker at Warren Truck, said avoiding a strike was a relief. But he hopes negotiators didn’t just repackage the failed deal.

“It’s great that were not going on strike, but if it’s the same deal as before we could be going through this all over again,” he said. “The devil’s in the detail.”

After the first deal was rejected, industry analysts speculated that negotiators would have to prepare an entirely new deal instead of patching holes in the initial failed contract.

“I anxiously await details to see how it comes out,” Kristin Dziczek, Center for Automotive Research director of the Industry & Labor Group, said early Thursday morning. “I hope it’s enough to meet the members’ expectations.”

Included in the tentative agreement voted down was a $3,000 signing bonus that was $500 less than the last contract; a 3 percent pay raise for legacy workers in the first and third years of the contract; and increases to wages of entry-level workers, who would have started at $17 an hour, up about $1.

Entry-level workers could have seen their top wage increase to $25.35, up from $19.28. The deal also included better profit-sharing based on North American profit margins.

Members say they opposed the first deal for various reasons: It failed to eliminate a tier-two wage structure that has divided workers. It did not fully explain a new health care co-op. And it failed to detail $5.3 billion in plant investments that reportedly would move nearly all car production to Mexico in exchange for more profitable pickups and SUVs built in the United States.

Many workers also voiced concern over a lack of communication during negotiations between the union and automaker – a problem the union has tried to correct with a number of updates this week, including blunt, to-the-point statements from Williams and UAW Vice President Norwood Jewell.

By the time leadership meets Friday, the union will have compiled a summary of the contract known as a “highlighter.” Many workers and industry analysts criticized the highlighter for the failed agreement, saying it wasn’t clear and lacked details about certain issues.

The union’s contract with Fiat Chrysler and its crosstown rivals General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. expired on Sept. 14.

Both GM and Ford indefinitely extended their contracts, as the union focused on Fiat Chrysler and announced the first tentative deal Sept. 15.

After the first deal with Fiat Chrysler was rejected, the union could have shifted its bargaining focus to one of the other automakers but decided to resume the talks late last week.

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Staff writer Louis Aguilar contributed