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Chrysler workers told to work despite strike preparations

Chrysler Corp. employees painted strike signs, but union officials on Monday told their members to report to work even if the extended national contract expired at midnight. The United Auto Workers and the No. 3 automaker continued to negotiate on a national labor contract involving 63,000 hourly and salaried workers in eight states.

"Everything is under control at the present time," UAW Local 1183 President Richard McDonaugh Jr. at Chrysler's Newark, Del., assembly plant said Monday afternoon. "They're dissatisfied with the lengthy period of time the extension has been."

The current contract, negotiated in 1988, was extended past its original Sept. 14 expiration while the UAW bargained separately with General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. New three-year contracts are in place at those companies.

The union gave Chrysler notice Friday that the contract extension would expire at midnight Monday.

Chrysler, meanwhile, said it lost $214-million during the third quarter. Most of the loss was attributed to one-month retooling shutdowns at two minivan plants, which make some of the company's most profitable vehicles, and to

cash rebates and low-interest financing deals used to attract buyers.

The blow was softened by record profits reported by its financial subsidiary. Chrysler Financial Corp., which handles consumer car loans, earned $83-million in the third quarter.

Despite the lifting of the contract extension, union leaders told members to report to work until notified otherwise. The UAW scheduled a meeting Thursday in Detroit of its 200-member national Chrysler bargaining council.

"At that time, a tentative agreement or a report on the status of the negotiations will be presented," a union statement said. But the bargaining council also may discuss strike strategy, union spokesman Bob Barbee said.

"We'll back our international (officers) as long as we can, but if they don't give us something, we're out of here," said Phil Portwood, a UAW member at Local 110 in St. Louis, home of one of the two minivan plants.

He said his local already had made strike signs and developed picket schedules. "We're ready to go," Portwood said.

The UAW last struck Chrysler in October 1985 for 12 days.

Major provisions of a new contract remained unresolved Monday, including job security, health-care provisions and retiree benefits.

The UAW is pressing Chrysler to sign a contract similar to the GM and Ford agreements. Chrysler officers have said the company may not be able to afford certain provisions of the pattern agreement.

Last week in Canada, Chrysler's wholly owned subsidiary agreed to follow a pattern for Canadian Auto Workers that was set at Ford and GM subsidiaries.

When bargaining began in mid-July, Chrysler also said it needed help from the UAW to cut health-care expenses, which cost the company about $684-million last year. The pattern agreement has no change in health-care provisions.

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