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Chrysler, UAW get pact

Published Oct. 18, 2005

The United Auto Workers union and Chrysler Corp. reached a tentative agreement Tuesday on a three-year contract, matching an industry pattern the company repeatedly had said it couldn't afford. "It's a pattern settlement and a pattern settlement in all respects," UAW president Owen Bieber told reporters.

He was referring to a union goal set in mid-July that the UAW would have similar contracts for the 450,000 workers at General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler.

Despite appearances, Chrysler didn't give away the store, said the company's chief negotiator, Anthony St. John.

"There are elements in this agreement that are particularly helpful to Chrysler's case," said St. John, a Chrysler vice president.

The agreement covers 63,000 workers in eight states _ Michigan, Missouri, Delaware, Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Ohio.

Details of the agreement were not released, but Chrysler appeared to have secured a new production plan at its minivan plant in St. Louis.

A year ago, members of Local 110, covering about 3,500 workers at the St. Louis factory, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to change from two straight production shifts to a plan using three crews on two shifts. The company said that would boost minivan production by 20 percent and employment by 1,000 to 1,300 jobs.

UAW national leadership and the company backed the change, but plant workers said it denied them any chance of overtime.

The contract will be reviewed by the union's 200-member Chrysler bargaining council Monday in Detroit. Pending approval by that group of local presidents and bargaining council chairs, the contract will be sent out for rank-and-file ratification.

St. John said there will be no change in the union's "30-and-out" retirement plan, which allows workers to retire when they have 30 years of seniority, no matter how old they are.

The company had proposed holding off pension payments until a worker reaches 60 years old.

Bieber and St. John declined to answer questions about health-care provisions, which were seen as a major sticking point in the talks. In the GM-Ford pattern agreement, there is no change in the method of coverage, but the union and the companies agreed to look for ways to cut costs.

Chrysler said it spent $684-million on health care last year. A company's health-care bill is increased by a higher percentage of retirees, and Chrysler has nearly one retiree for every active worker _ a higher proportion than GM or Ford.

The UAW reached agreement with GM on Sept. 17. After that was ratified, it took just six days for the union and Ford to reach a tentative agreement, which was ratified earlier this month.

The agreement came a day after Chrysler reported a third-quarter loss of $214-million, mostly from costs of sales incentives and lost production due to the retooling of its minivan plants in St. Louis and Windsor, Ontario.