Fiat Chrysler workers skeptical of new UAW deal's impact on wages

Thu Oct 8, 2015 1:40pm EDT
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By Nick Carey

KOKOMO, Ind. (Reuters) - Workers outside the gates of a Fiat Chrysler plant here greeted news early on Thursday of a new tentative agreement between the automaker and the United Auto Workers skeptically, giving an indication of the challenges the union may face in getting the deal ratified by members.

Last week, 65 percent of Fiat Chrysler unionized workers voting rejected a proposed four-year contract. UAW production workers in Kokomo voted against the proposed contract by a margin of 2,555 to 723.

Some workers complained that the first tentative deal put more of a burden on them and treated retirees unfairly, but the biggest bone of contention was over wages. The proposed agreement would have narrowed the gap between veteran UAW workers, who earn about $28 an hour, and more recent hires, who are paid about $19 an hour.

But workers said it did not narrow the gap sufficiently or fast enough.

"They have to give them younger folks what they need, they have to give them more money," said Carl Durham, 45, who has worked here for 20 years and makes $28 an hour. "If they give them more money, we won't have no problems."

The failure of the first agreement led the UAW to threaten a strike against Fiat Chrysler, which was to begin Wednesday at one minute before midnight eastern time. That would have been the first stoppage at a U.S. automaker since 2007. When word of a new deal trickled out after midnight, the two-tier wage system was again an issue for workers gathered in a parking lot opposite the plant.

"When you have people working side by side doing the same job for different wages, it causes tensions," said Lakeysha Woodare, 41, a first-tier worker making $28 an hour who voted against the first contract. "So if they don't address that in the new agreement, I'm not voting for it."

Negotiations late on Wednesday lasted until just before the midnight deadline, said Carl Greenwood, head of UAW local 685 in Kokomo. The local represents workers at three transmission plants in Kokomo and one in nearby Tipton, Ind.   Continued...

A new Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sign is pictured after being unveiled at Chrysler Group World Headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook