Despite progress, UAW-FCA negotiators still have 'difficult issues to resolve'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers signaled Monday that it continues to grapple over some key decisions in its labor talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

"The National Parties have negotiated every day, and long hours since then," UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada wrote in a letter to local union leaders. "Much progress has been made but we still have some difficult issues to resolve."

"Much progress has been made but we still have some difficult issues to resolve," UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada told local union leaders.

The last round of labor talks in 2015 were able to finish prior to Thanksgiving, but the holiday looms on Thursday. Estrada's letter is her first since the UAW intensified its discussions with Fiat Chrysler after UAW members employed by Ford Motor Co. ratified a contract on Nov. 15. Talks with Fiat Chrysler will affect 37,200 UAW members, whose 2015 contract has been extended indefinitely.

Estrada's update also is the first following "a few outside distractions," as she described recent events in her letter related to a four-year federal corruption investigation into the UAW that has produced 10 convictions and charges against 13 people, implicating two former UAW presidents.

General Motors Co. sued Fiat Chrysler on Wednesday in a racketeering lawsuit alleging late-CEO Sergio Marchionne orchestrated a multimillion-dollar conspiracy, including bribes, that corrupted three rounds of bargaining with the union and harmed GM. The UAW is not a defendant listed in the lawsuit.

The same day GM filed the suit, the UAW's executive board moved to revoke the memberships of UAW President Gary Jones and Vance Pearson, his former aide and the union's Region 5 director. Jones, who was on paid leave at the time, resigned, though he has not been charged in the federal probe. Pearson, who also was on paid leave and has been charged in the probe, resigned Sunday.

Rory Gamble, former UAW vice president and Ford Department director, has been the acting UAW president since Jones went on leave Nov. 3. The union's executive board must vote to determine a permanent replacement to finish Jones' four-year term that ends June 2022.

"Your negotiators have remained focused on resolving all your outstanding demands," Estrada wrote, emphasizing the union's commitment to pattern bargaining and long-term job security.

As the third Detroit automaker to negotiate a labor agreement, Fiat Chrysler will have the least flexibility in the bargaining process, experts have said. Contracts with Ford and GM provide pathways for all employees, both full-time and temporary hired prior to the contract's ratification date, to reach the top of the pay scale within the contracts' four years. They also do not increase health-care costs and promise billions of dollars in investments in U.S. facilities.

GM set the pattern after a six-week national strike. The UAW did not strike any of the three automakers in 2015.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble