Despite UAW President Bob King’s insistence that the UAW is not riven with divisions, Chrysler’s latest union contract is inflaming intra-union conflict, as the Detroit News reports that the Autoworker’s Caravan splinter group is protesting the union’s decision to approve a contract despite being rejected by Chrysler’s skilled trade workers. According to Autoworkers Caravan’s Alex Wassell,
We voted down the tentative agreement. But they used a procedural loophole to ratify it. We think it’s a very bad agreement and a very bad precedent, and we’re going to do everything we can to overturn it.
King claims that the ignored skilled trade workers’ rejection of the new contract because
It was overwhelmingly clear that the issues were economic issues and not skilled-trades issues,
And the Autoworkers Caravan seems to be wondering why that would matter: after all, the union isn’t allowed to do anything without membership ratification. In any case, the matter will be determined by the UAW’s public review board… which is exactly what Caravan’s Wassell wants. He tells the DetN
We want to go through a discovery phase and find out exactly how Bob King and the other leaders made that decision. We think it will show that it was just a rubber-stamp.
But regardless of how this particular dispute is resolved, labor issues are likely to drag on at Chrysler. With CEO Sergio Marchionne’s revelation that he wanted a single-tier payscale, and with a flat $22/hour rate proposed for all of Chrysler’s UAW workers, the UAW’s Chrysler reps are hunkering down. Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research tells the Detroit News
It’s a very unhappy work force now. They got less, and they basically feel like Chrysler wants to continue to give them less. Chrysler workers are already saying, ‘Save your raises (for a future strike),’ and Mr. Marchionne is already throwing down the gauntlet for 2015.
Even King admits that Chrysler is a troubling bellweather for the health of the union. Though GM and Ford were relatively generous this year, that won’t last as long as Marchionne and Chrysler play hardball with the union. Says King,
They saw their sisters and brothers at GM and Ford getting a lot more money. Is everybody on the floor of the factory happy? Absolutely not. I’m not happy, either.
Nor should he be. On the one hand, he’s got to be responsive to the fact that his Chrysler skilled trade workers are up in arms, and on the other, he’s got to manage a Chrysler leadership team that has the motive and opportunity to break the union’s back entirely. As Chrysler’s VP for communications Gualberto Ranieri puts it
It was not because someone here won the lottery, and it was not generated by the automotive business. The recent history of Chrysler is not comparable to any of the other manufacturers, and you don’t need an MBA to understand this. What the company proposed, what the UAW negotiating team unanimously approved and what the majority of its members voted for is consistent with the situation at Chrysler. It will ensure that Chrysler has the means to grow and not put in danger its future.
In the words of one Chrysler employee, “it’s going to be ugly in ’15.” But the way the tension is building already, the ugliness could well boil over before 2015 negotiations begin. Chrysler is taking the most aggressive line with the union yet seen, and the UAW’s most experienced workers are already digging in their heels. Unless King, who is stuck in the middle, can find a way to keep everyone happy, the union could tear itself apart under the pressure.