UAW leaders push for OK of Fiat Chrysler deal

Michael Wayland, Melissa Burden, and Michael Martinez

The UAW International has released two new videos featuring local UAW leaders and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV hourly members who seem supportive of the second tentative deal, as informational meetings for members proceed ahead of next week’s contract vote.

In one video posted Thursday to the union’s Facebook page, several local UAW leaders talk about how the “no” vote on the initial tentative agreement reached by the union and company has strengthened the union.

“I believe the ‘no’ vote actually brought us together as a union,” said Marylyn Bonds, recording secretary of UAW Local 140 which represents Warren Truck Assembly Plant employees. “I believe the ‘no’ vote sent a message to Sergio (Marchionne) that we are serious about our livelihood. I also feel that the ‘no’ vote was a message to all the unions across the world that if we stand together, we can basically get the things that we want in solidarity.”

Opposition over the latest four-year tentative agreement between the union and Fiat Chrysler appears subdued compared to the first deal that was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin. Since the tentative new deal was reached just prior to a strike deadline Oct. 7, there have been no large protests planned, social media chatter has died down and talk on many factory floors is that the deal is far improved.

On Thursday, some workers leaving an informational meeting at UAW Local 140 in Warren said there appeared to be concern among members about a potential loss of 2,406 jobs at the Warren Truck plant. That job figure was cited in the contract highlighter. Sources have said the Ram 1500 would move from Warren to Sterling Heights Assembly, and would be replaced by the upcoming Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The highlighter said the plant’s current vehicle would end production in 2017.

Despite the concern about job losses, some workers said the overall meeting mood was OK.

The union was criticized for not updating members and for not responding to a very vocal group of workers who took to social media for answers on the first tentative deal. The union’s messages to its members and its transparency has changed dramatically in the past week or so. Since the first contract defeat, the UAW has launched a social-media blitz with the help of New York-based BerlinRosen, a public relations firm the union had been working with on an unrelated matter before negotiations.

Don Tanner, a partner of Farmington Hills-based public relations firm Tanner-Friedman, told The Detroit News that using video could be “very effective” for the union. “People are thirsty for information and if the UAW isn’t saying anything, they’re going to look to others and that information may or may not be accurate,” Tanner said.

Donald Foster, president of UAW Local 7 which represents employees at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant, is in the video. He says in the video that the defeat of the first agreement allowed the bargaining team “to negotiate a better agreement because they had the strength and the power in numbers because of the membership.”

Bonds says in the video she hopes the new deal “can pass and we can move forward with our lives and build a good product for the next four years.”

In a second video posted late Wednesday on the union’s Facebook page, team leaders and workers from UAW Local 7 that represents members at Fiat Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant, spoke out against the last failed contract.

“I felt betrayed because I felt they didn’t hold their end of the bargain from the last contract,” Raymond Vernatter said.

Keith Stacks, a second-tier worker at the plant, said he didn’t like the contract at all because it didn’t eliminate the tiers. “I was looking and it had a cap of $25 and I’m a two tier and I wanted to be able to make the same pay as the traditional workers,” he said. “That affected me because we didn’t have too much to look forward to.”

Frank Gennero, a team leader with UAW Local 7, said in the video that workers’ anger over the first tentative contract had affected the mood on the shop floor.

“I honestly felt that affected production and quality because they really didn’t have a vested interest; there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Now with the second contract coming back, they know they’re going get the top pay, they know the job security will be there eventually and (if) they want a job for life, they can support their families on this income.”

Fiat Chrysler members will vote on the new deal Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. UAW members are working under contract extensions reached before the union’s contract with the three companies expired a month ago. The union has not announced its next company target for bargaining.

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