The Truth About Cars » uaw The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:53:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » uaw UAW Money Woes Worry Detroit Three Wed, 26 Feb 2014 12:30:03 +0000 Bob King

With declining membership and fees paired with a defeat in a close election recently held at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Detroit Three fear the United Auto Workers not only have no future, but their replacement would bring back the days of turmoil settled over a decade before.

The Detroit Free Press reports the three Detroit automakers worry the UAW could be absorbed by another, more hostile union not as willing to keep labor costs competitive with overseas competitors, as well disrupting the brokered peace which set lower wages for new hires and health care concessions that brought United States production costs on parity with Japan.

Meanwhile, the UAW continues to weaken, as annual dues fell by 40 percent to $115 million over the period between 2006 and 2012 with membership falling by 30 percent to 382,000 in the same period, having peaked at 1.5 million members in 1979. The union’s assets totaled $1 billion in 2012, making the UAW the wealthiest union the U.S., though $300 million in assets were liquidated in the six-year period to pay operating expenses while spending was cut 15 percent; $47 million in assets were sold in the last year alone to balance the union’s budget. Further, with lower wages from new workers unable to fill the coffers fast enough to make up the difference, the UAW may raise dues for the first time in 47 years.

In UAW president Bob King’s view, the union has no future without an organized South, where transplants such as VW and BMW have expanded in the region over the past decade as more and more factories in and around Detroit closed. King’s potential successor, secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams, has vowed to fight on, from higher wages for new hires to more organization battles in the South; the UAW recently filed an appeal with the National Labor Relations Board over the outcome of the Volkswagen vote.

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QOTD: How Can the UAW’s Damaged Brand be Fixed? Sun, 23 Feb 2014 14:00:22 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

We talk a lot about brands here at TTAC. For example, Porsche comes in for a bit of criticism for moving away from their image as a maker of purist sports cars. We’ve discussed how brands can be burnished and also be diminished. Do today’s Cadillacs live up to “the standard of the world” and is the Lincoln Motor Company a dead brand walking? Back when GM was busy melting down financially and the future of brands like Pontiac were uncertain, I even checked with a businessman who specialized in bringing back old brands, to see how he would go about reviving GM’s distressed brands. Even a badly damaged brand can be revived. Which brings me to today’s topic, is the UAW’s brand damaged and if so, how can it be fixed?

I ask that not just because the autoworkers’ labor union lost an important certification vote at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, TN assembly plant. You can see negative attitudes towards the UAW by consumers as well, people insisting one reason why they won’t buy a car from the three domestic American car companies is because they question the quality of cars built in UAW shops. Sure, some of the negativity comes from general anti-union attitudes, but I think the UAW would be well served to pay attention to the possibility that their brand is indeed considered damaged by both consumers and potential UAW members, and to consider what the union can do to restore some luster to its brand. Denying that the UAW brand is damaged, or saying that it’s all the fault of anti-union activity is akin to a line worker at GM’s Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant whistling Solidarity Forever as he strolls past the folks resting forever at Beth Olem.

One of the more common comments following the UAW’s failing to win the vote at VW was that workers there weren’t rejecting the idea of a union so much as they were rejecting a specific union, the UAW. Certainly a factor in the vote was the involvement of outside groups, like the one headed by Grover Norquist, that bought billboard space in Chattanooga targeting VW employees. Those billboards didn’t really address ideological issues surrounding the labor movement, they attacked the UAW. Those billboards wouldn’t have gotten traction with VW employees if the UAW’s image with those workers was pristine.

My own position on the UAW is that while I have my criticisms, a measurable percentage of the things that I see attacking the UAW are unfair. For example, calling the union “communist” is just silly in light of the history of Walter Reuther fighting hard to keep communist influence out of his union. I’m a small L libertarian and I have my differences with the labor movement but I think that the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of association and contract rights, provides a sound basis for saying that Americans have the right to form labor unions and try to negotiate collectively, at least in the private sector. This, however, is not about my political or ideological stances, it’s about consumers and workers looking at the union label and saying, “no, thanks”.

Part of the UAW’s brand image problem is tied to “Detroit”, the city and the industry. At the same time that “Detroit” evokes a symphony of images and feelings, many of which are not exactly warm and fuzzy, there are at least a couple of examples of Detroit brands being turned around. While it still has a long row to hoe, Cadillac today is a much more respected brand than it was in the late 1990s, and under Alan Mulally’s leadership Ford has gained a great deal of credibility with consumers and industry observers alike. If those companies’ brands can go from not even being on consumers’ short lists to now being found on their driveways, there’s no reason why the UAW can’t improve its image.

So if you were Dennis Williams, who is slated to replace Bob King as president of the UAW, what would you do to improve the UAW’s brand?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Guest Post: Jamie Kitman On The Battle Of Chattanooga Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:00:42 +0000 VW-Gesetz-IG-Metall

TTAC welcomes Jamie Kitman, of Automobile Magazine, NPR’s CarTalk and other international outlets, as he presents his analysis of what went wrong at Chattanooga, and the next steps for the labor movement’s efforts in the auto industry.

With all the clamorous back patting and joyous trills of laughter attending the defeat of the UAW’s unionization drive at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, one has that nagging sensation, increasingly common these days that the whole 20th century never happened.

I am not here to defend everything that has ever been done in the name of the United Auto Workers or any other union, because their list of wrongdoings is long. There has been corruption, laziness and greed, none of which I, or most union members, for that matter, would endorse. But the list of mean, corrupt and otherwise heinous acts committed by manufacturers through the years in the name of unfettered profit is undoubtedly greater. Profits are swell and all that, but the business of manufacturing is most beneficial to communities and society as a whole when all stakeholders have a seat at the table.

Anyone who can remember or has read of the days when a worker without a college education could support a family, buy a house, go on vacation, put three kids through braces and college, ought to think about the good unions have done. Ironically, many who lament the passing of middle class prosperity oppose one of the main instrument s of its creation.

Now there are those whose official position is to go blindly on the side of organized capital, no matter the cost, including apparently enough Republican politicians in Tennessee to fill a basketball arena, and that is their right. Less certain is whether terrifying workers about the parade of horribles that might ensue from a vote to certify the union – based on conversations they claim to have had with VW management – will withstand legal muster; if VW had told workers they’d close down a line on account of a pro-union vote, they’d be in violation of the law. If local politicians with their television pulpits were knowingly doing the company’s bidding, the law may well have been broken, too.

Then again, these are the same politicians who tell their constituents that climate change is a myth, that President Obama is a communist traitor and demand that their children be taught in public schools that the world was formed over a mere 144 hours, 6000 years ago. The people keep electing them, so maybe the non-union South is simply getting what it’s paid for.

What rankles are those who claim to be looking out for working men and women and oppose unions anyway as bad for labor. Where is their proof? That the American auto industry went wrong after 100 years on top? Er, actually, the years of the industry’s greatest prosperity coincided with the years of the UAW’s greatest prominence.

What rankles still more are the so-called journalists covering this story as if somehow the future of capitalism depended on their penning love letters to management. They seem to have forgotten that there were good and honest reasons for autoworkers to unionize in the 1930s. That there were reasons employees tithed a portion of their weekly wage packets to the union, and reasons that laws were enacted to protect the right of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. And there were reasons that, yes, car companies, like Volkswagen, grew to value their union relationships.

Well, folks, those reasons didn’t all go away. Do you honestly believe that no one at any of the southern car factories wants to be in a union? Would that be because life on the shop floor has gotten so pleasant and they feel like they’re getting paid so much and that their work rules and grievance procedures are now so fair that they have no complaints? If so, ladies and gentlemen of the Fourth Estate, why aren’t you actually reporting that story on the ground, rather than inferring it from the lack of successful union drives in the South? Or perhaps you might have to start reporting the story of how Nissan and other U.S. transplants spy on and thuggishly seek to disrupt the would-be organizers in their midst, as anti-union managements have always done. That is, of course, how unions were kept down in their early days, all across America, all across the world. Other times, when their movements started becoming too successful, workers were killed for their union activity.

But let’s ignore that part of the ugly history and stay in the moment. Assaying the wholesale death of middle-class factory jobs in this increasingly non-union country, the value of union associations to workers seems kind of obvious. And now as union membership dwindles, we see more auto industry jobs that don’t pay enough for people to even approximate what was known for more than half a century as a decent, middle class life. Instead, we increasingly see workers hired in the non-union, transplant carmakers – Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, BMW and Honda—not only as non-union employees, but as temporary workers, with few if any benefits to go with their new, lower wages. The auto industry is not alone here, but without a viable middle class, one must wonder who exactly is going to be buying all those cars and trucks our factories can make. If people had more money, maybe they wouldn’t need 80-month loans and all that cash back.

Low wages aren’t as bad as no wages because you have no job, it’s true, but they’re not as nice as good wages and that’s not the choice, anyway. Commentators and pundits lashed out at Henry Ford for paying his workers a living $5 a day wage when half that was the national standard but the move, if anything, helped his company. And the unionized American industry proved for much of the 20th century that you could have both jobs and good wages, with the German automobile industry out there still, continuing to prove the same thing. Not too unsuccessful a manufacturing economy last time I looked, Germany pays its autoworkers the world’s highest industrial wages. And indeed Volkswagen’s 61 other factories outside the US are union shops, excluding China.

So what’s that I hear, Sen. Corker? You think the deal the Chinese workers get is good enough for the hardworking people of Tennessee?

Evidently. For those who weren’t paying attention, the senator was so exorcised by the fact that a UAW preliminary card count showing a majority of workers at Chattanooga supporting the union, that he publicly told VW workers that the SUV the company was saying it might build in Tennessee would go elsewhere if the union was certified.

“I’ve had conversations today and based on those am assured that should the workers vote against the UAW, Volkswagen will announce in the coming weeks that it will manufacture its new mid-size SUV here in Chattanooga,” Corker announced, ominously. Of course, his statement also admits of the possibility that they might have also said they’d build it either way, but clearly that was not the impression he meant to give.

And what Volkswagen was thinking isn’t exactly clear, either. Their union at home in Germany is very powerful, but that doesn’t mean they like it.

Of course, Volkswagen Chattanooga’s chairman and CEO Frank Fischer dismissed any linkage between the vote and the decision to build the new SUV in Chattanooga . But there is good reason to believe Corker’s scare tactic was enough to scuttle the UAW’s drive; just 44 additional people would have had to vote in favor of union affiliation for it to have prevailed.

There’s also ample reason for VW’s Chattanooga work force to question the overall sincerity of its employers, which already reneged on a pledge to build Audis there, so long as the launches of the Jetta and New Beetle (built in Mexico) were successful, which they claimed were. So who knows what the truth of VW’s involvement is?

If they really wanted the UAW in place so as to be able to set up their works council, surely they could have countered Corker’s intemperate remarks. Or perhaps they have another way around U.S. labor laws. Who knows?

What we do know is that the company certainly knows how to sweet talk Tennessee politicians, having received the most generous state grant of any American corporation looking to set up shop anywhere ever – a package that included $577 million in tax breaks, over $40 million in training assistance and over 1,500 acres of land, gratis. All for 1,550 jobs, in a city which can’t afford to update a sewage system that is 100 years out of date, causing the town to reek many days of the year. That’s close to half a million dollars per job.

The really upside down part is that Detroit still pays union wages to some of its employees. So actions like Corker’s are in essence a gift to big conglomerates from Japan, Germany and Korea when they come to America. Until, that is, the moment when the low wages paid in transplant factories fully kill decent wages for the home team. At which point they will have sown the seeds for a union fight as ugly as any ever seen.

Because the harder the workers get stomped on, the sooner and clearer the need for unions will be. Because left to its own devices, big money always races to the bottom. It is the nature of the beast.

So the battle of Chattanooga may be lost. But the larger war is hardly over.

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UAW, VW Works Council Regrouping Under Voting Fallout Mon, 17 Feb 2014 11:00:09 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Following the 712 – 629 decision against representation by the United Auto Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., the union may be forced to throw in the towel on foreign-owned auto factories as the automaker’s works council vow to press forward with plans to establish their brand of representation in the plant.

Bloomberg and Reuters report that though the UAW may have been thwarted in their recent organizing efforts at the plant by third-party organizations and local and state politicians opposed to the union, Volkswagen’s works council remains undeterred, according to council secretary general Gunnar Kilian in a statement:

We have always stressed that the decision over union representation lies in the hands of the workers in Chattanooga. The result of the election has not changed our goal of creating a works council in Chattanooga.

Kilian and VW Global Works Council Secretary General Frank Patta are expected to travel to the United States in the next two weeks to meet and consult with labor law experts to determine the next steps needed to bring a works council to the U.S. plant.

Meanwhile, the UAW remains optimistic in the face of the Chattanooga vote for the time being, with support from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat. The ferocity of the anti-union forces only reinforces the fact that there is a powerful new form of organizing emerging.

The union faced opposition by anti-union groups, including one with ties to anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, and Tennessee Republican political leaders such as Governor Bill Haslam and former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

In the long-term, and with membership hovering around 400,000 after falling 75 percent from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979, the UAW may be forced to extend its hand to workers outside of the automotive industry, such as motel maids and university assistants, while walking away from the effort to represent transplant factory workers.

Clark University labor law professor Gary Chaison noted that representation at the VW plant would have bolstered efforts to unionize other Southern plants, such as Daimler AG’s MBUSI plant in Vance, Ala. However, the roadmap may need to be redrawn:

This is a time for soul-searching at the UAW and within the American labor movement. This was the ideal situation and they know that. They might just give up on transplants.

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VW Workers Reject UAW By Narrow Margin Sat, 15 Feb 2014 04:09:18 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga rejected the UAW in a vote that ended Friday night. 712 workers voted “No” to being represented by the UAW while 626 voted Yes. 89 percent of eligible workers turned out for the vote. The UAW failed to secure representation despite Volkswagen’s neutrality towards the UAW and their support of a German-style Works Council.

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QOTD: UAW Vote At Chattanooga Ends Tonight, What’s Your Prediction? Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:26:37 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08 (1)

The historic vote scheduled to take place at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant. 1,570 workers will vote on whether to be represented by the United Auto Workers so that a German-style Works Council can be formed.

If the UAW is successful, it would be their first victory in a long history of failing to secure organization at foreign-owned auto plants. If they fail, it will be a serious blow to the UAW and the American labor movement. For the definitive report on final day of the vote, The Detroit News has a great take.

Personally, I think that the final vote will result in the workers rejecting the union. But I am curious to hear your take.

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Volkswagen Workers To Vote On UAW Representation Starting February 12th Mon, 03 Feb 2014 18:28:08 +0000 Volkswagen-Chattanooga-Plant-500x333

An article on the UAW’s website claims that workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant will vote on representation by the UAW from February 12th-14th via a secret ballot. Previously, the union had pushed for a “card check”, but it now looks like the matter will be taken to a vote.

Per the UAW

Together, Volkswagen Group of America (VWGOA) and the UAW will set a new standard in the U.S. for innovative labor-management relations that benefit the company, the entire workforce, shareholders and the community in general. From Feb. 12-14, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., will decide the issue of union representation in a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. If the majority of workers vote for UAW representation, workers would then elect a bargaining committee from among VWGOA workers in Chattanooga to negotiate an agreement with the company, including how a works council would operate in the Chattanooga facility based on the principles of co-determination


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NYT: Chattanooga is a Lobbyist Battleground Thu, 30 Jan 2014 12:30:27 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08

On Tuesday, the New York Times published a look at the ongoing feud between pro- and anti-union forces at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It paints a picture of a political battle fought mainly by outside forces, utilizing the deep pockets of some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.

Steven Greenhouse’s story “Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee” is mainly focused on the lobbying efforts of anti-union groups, including the freshly minted Center for Worker Freedom. The CWF is a subsidiary of Americans for Tax Reform, the well-known anti-tax group led by conservative titan Grover Norquist. Conservative commentator Matt Patterson heads the CWF, and has made it clear that he wants the UAW out of Chattanooga, telling the NYT

 “Unions are a big driver of government. Unions are very political, the U.A.W. is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”

Mr. Patterson has serious resources to call upon in his crusade. In a piece for conservative blog The Daily Caller, Mr. Patterson lambasted the UAW as a “left-wing ATM machine.” He also criticized the recent rejection by the NLRB of a worker complaint alleging misleading solicitation by the UAW at Chattanooga, labeling it as politically motivated. Mr. Patterson’s CWF is just one of a number of conservative lobbying groups making their presence known in the region. Previous efforts by the UAW to organize the transplant auto factories have widely been dismissed as moribund. However, the level of spending and lobbying action of anti-union groups suggests otherwise, at least in this case.

Greenhouse’s full piece is well worth a read, if only because it shows how high the stakes at Chattanooga have become (or at least are perceived to be). It also demonstrates, perhaps unintentionally, how “pro-union“ and “anti-union“ have been constructed as all-or-nothing categories in post-bailout America. That new politics of exclusion has turned what would originally have been a fairly small-scale regional controversy into a national issue.

The fear of (or hope for) a domino effect of widespread unionization of the Southern auto industry is palpable amongst groups with a national reach.  Even so, the level of concern may be overblown. Every plant is unique, and with manufacturing subdivided between an ever-larger number of OEMs and locations, the chance of unionization automatically spreading is slim. VW’s well-publicized sales difficulties in North America coupled with major layoffs last year have undoubtedly contributed to an exceptional climate at the plant, one unlike the other transplant factories. The future still holds many uncertainties for the friends and foes of organized labor.

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NLRB To Conduct Hearing on Alleged Worker Intimidation at Mercedes-Benz Plant in Alabama Wed, 29 Jan 2014 16:19:57 +0000 28_Millionth_Vehicle_at_Plant_Tuscaloosa

The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a hearing to discuss allegations regarding management conduct at Mercedes-Benz’s Vance, Alabama plant. The reports filed with the Board allege that Mercedes violated worker’s rights by forbidding discussion of unions during working hours, as well as threatening termination of employees that solicited for the union.

The UAW accuses Mercedes of suppressing efforts by employees to organize, in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. Mercedes claims it has pursued a policy of neutrality regarding the unionization of its workforce. The NLRB dismissed one complaint filed against the company in August of last year. But two other complaints filed in the fall were accepted by the NLRB as possible violations of labor law. The hearing, to be conducted on April 7, will allow both sides to present their case before a judge. The recommendation of that judge will influence the final ruling by the NLRB. A ruling against the complaint would strengthen the position of Mercedes and the union’s political opponents, but if the NLRB finds a violation of the law, it could be a major coup for the UAW.

This is the latest development in an ongoing campaign to unionize the plant, which builds the M, R, and GL Class near Tuscaloosa. Pro-union employees cite stagnating wages and reduced benefits as part of their reason for considering unionization. This leaflet issued by the UAW organizing committee alleges that since 2007, Mercedes has slashed healthcare plans for retirees. Supposedly, employees hired after 2009 will not be eligible for any retiree health benefits whatsoever. Employees have also voiced concern over the increased use of temporary workers at the plant. Still others point to a general decline in the relationship between labor and management, with complaints about inconsistent application of company policy. Others dismiss the need for a union, pointing out that high-paying jobs were scarce in the area before Mercedes arrived. They fear that the UAW may damage Mercedes’ recent run of success in the US. This includes an expansion of the plant to build the new C-Class later this year.

Although it has not yet succeeded in organizing the main Mercedes plant, the UAW has had a measure of success with Mercedes’ suppliers. The parts makers Faurecia, Inteva, ZF, and Johnson Controls in nearby areas have been organized for several years. It’s possible that the UAW may be able to leverage this success with plant workers in Vance. Even so, the unionization of a major transplant automaker in a right-to-work state remains a daunting task.

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NLRB Rules Against Anti-Union VW Employees Fri, 24 Jan 2014 19:01:44 +0000 2012AerialfromWest

Reuters is reporting that the office of the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board has recommended that allegations brought by employees at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant be dismissed.

The latest chapter in the ongoing saga involving the UAW’s attempted organization of the plant involves eight VW’s hourly employees alleging that

“…the UAW coerced them and misled them to sign cards approving the union’s representation of them. Also, four workers alleged that VW, through a German union representative who sits on the company’s supervisory board, threatened them by linking approval of the UAW as union representatives to future work at the plant.”

According to Reuters, the recommendation to dismiss the allegations will now go to a regional panel, but the workers are planning on appealing the ruling. The allegations stem from an incident that the workers allege involved duplicitous practicing regarding union cards. Observers say that if the ruling is upheld, it could pave the way for a worker vote on UAW representation.

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UAW Hopes For Swift Southern Unionization Victory ‘Overly Optimistic’ Mon, 20 Jan 2014 20:28:25 +0000 Bob King

Outgoing United Auto Workers president Bob King admitted that his timetable for a swift unionization of one of the auto plants in the Southeastern United States was overly optimistic.

Though the UAW is still slogging through efforts at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. and Nissan’s Canton, Miss. plants, King hopes that the VW workers will become card-carrying members before union rules bring his four-year term to a close in June 2014. King believes the only thing holding back the assimilation is the process in which to bring UAW membership to a vote, stating that a “strong majority” of the VW workers have submitted cards in support of joining the union.

In his speech at the Automotive News World Congress last week during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, King said that while workers in European and Japanese auto plants throughout the United States were not opposed to UAW membership, past organizing efforts have been hampered by employers through intimidation tactics and threats of unemployment. King further claimed that without the current push to bring the workers under their umbrella, jobs in the automotive industry would come to consist of “low-wage, temporary labor working under unsafe conditions” in the 21st century.

On the other side, Volkswagen and Nissan — the latter specifically called out by King for their alleged anti-unionization efforts — both stated that they would respect the wishes of their factory employees in whatever they decided to do regarding the UAW.

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UAW Dues Hike Supported By Membership According to Union President Fri, 17 Jan 2014 15:15:23 +0000 Bob King

The United Auto Workers will, for the first time since 1967, ask their membership to pay a 25 percent increase in dues to the union in order to shore up their strike fund and fight for better contracts, a move outgoing UAW president Bob King believes the membership will overwhelmingly support.

The increase will be voted upon during the UAW’s Constitutional Convention this June, which is also when members will vote for a new president to lead the union in their effort to unionize autoworkers at foreign-owned plants throughout the southeastern United States. Currently, union members pay two hours’ worth of their wages every month; the increase would tack on another 30 minutes of earned income to the strike fund, which has $600 million at the ready, down from a peak of $1 billion.

Speaking of unionization of the South, King believes the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. will soon join the UAW rank and file once an election process is agreed upon. Though the union claims to have received signed cards from a clear majority of the plant’s autoworkers, critics dispute the idea that the UAW has such a majority in place, nor would the plant be unionized without an election.

Volkswagen says they will respect whatever decision their Chattanooga plant makes, with Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn invoking the values of American democracy in a statement made at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show January 13 regarding the eventual vote to either join the UAW or remain non-union.

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UAW Sets Up Organizing Committee At Tesla Motors’ Fremont Assembly Plant Tue, 07 Jan 2014 16:27:23 +0000 Workers at Tesla's Fremont plant celebrate the 1,000th Model S body built, 2012.

Workers at Tesla’s Fremont plant celebrate the 1,000th Model S body built, 2012.

United Auto Workers president Bob King has said that the labor union is interested in organizing Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont, California and that a group of workers at the site have set up an organizing committee for the UAW. That factory is where Tesla assembles the battery powered Model S. Tesla has prided itself in being different from Detroit and its headquarters’ location, the Silicon Valley, is not exactly a labor hotbed.

While under King the autoworkers’ union has been more collaborative than confrontational with automakers, should the UAW organize Tesla that would undoubtedly affect the corporate culture at the EV startup. “Elon [Musk]‘s attitude was always, ‘We’re going to Silicon Valley-ize the car business,’ ” Karl Brauer, with Kelley Blue Book told the “If he goes union, he’s going to take a huge step toward falling in line with the industry that he used to make fun of.”

It’s a testy subject. Despite King’s comments, when contacted by the San Francisco Chronicle, the UAW’s public relations director would not comment. Neither would Tesla, nor many of their employees. For Musk’s part he seems ambivalent. When Tesla purchased the Fremont facility from Toyota (which had formerly operated it with General Motors as the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (Nummi) plant) Musk said, ”on the question of the union, we’re neutral.”  However, Tesla Motors’ last annual financial report listed possible union activity under business “risks”: ”The mere fact that our labor force could be unionized may harm our reputation in the eyes of some investors and thereby negatively affect our stock price. Additionally, the unionization of our labor force could increase our employee costs and decrease our profitability, both of which could adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.”

In August, King told WardsAuto that Musk had repeated his neutral position at a meeting with union representatives, but that other Tesla executives were less open to the idea of an organized labor force. Musk, King said, was ”very open and said he would respect what the workers wanted. But his operating management has done the opposite.”

Tesla’s Fremont plant is the only remaining car assembly plant on the West Coast. When it was called NUMMI, it employed 4,700 workers, most recently building Tacoma pickups and Corolla sedans. Current employment is estimated to be about 2,000, many of who are experienced autoworkers, having worked at the facility under prior management.

Employee reviews of Tesla posted online mention a fast pace and long hours. That’s typical of many Silicon Valley startups, which typically focus more on engineering than manufacturing. While work hours are a traditional wedge issue that labor unions use to rally workers onto their side, the frenetic pace in Silicon Valley is part of the culture there. ”Engineering lends itself to a different style of self-starters, independent-minded people, survival of the fittest,” said Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation labor union. ”Manufacturing is different.”

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In $4.35 Billion Deal, Fiat Will Acquire Rest of Chrysler from UAW Retiree Health Care Trust Thu, 02 Jan 2014 11:00:41 +0000 marchionne

Fiat SpA said on Wednesday that it has signed an agreement to buy the remaining 41.5% stake in Chrysler that it does not own from the United Auto Worker’s retiree health-care trust, known as VEBA, for $3.65 billion in cash up front and another $700 million after the deal is completed. The agreement will allow Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne to realize his dream of creating a global automotive group out of the two companies. The joint automaker would be the 7th largest in the world.

Fiat and the trust have been negotiating over the stock’s value for more than a year. Part of that sparring included the VEBA exercising its option to force an initial public offering of Chrysler stock to determine a true market value. An IPO would have made it more difficult for Marchionne to consolidate the two firms but now it’s a moot point, as is the lawsuit filed by Fiat to determine a share price.

According to the terms of the deal, Fiat will put up $1.75 billion and Chrysler $1.9 billion, both in cash, to buy out the trust, with the remaining $700 million to be paid out by Chrysler in equal annual payments over four years. The contracts will be signed and the deal closed on or before January 20, 2014. Because some of the cash is coming from Chrysler, Fiat will not have to make any capital increase through a rights issue.

Marchionne needs Chrysler’s cash and current profitability to prop up Fiat, suffering because their core market, Europe, is still in the doldrums, but he can’t spend Chrysler’s cash on Fiat’s operations without a formal merger. Chrysler booked $464 million in profits in the third quarter of 2013 on strong sales of the Ram pickup and Jeep Grand Cherokee in North America. That was the Auburn Hills based automaker’s ninth straight quarterly profit. Fiat’s share of Chrysler’s profits were $260 million and without them Fiat would have lost $340 million for the quarter.

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U.S. Car Exports to Hit Record 2 Million, Half From Domestic Brands Fri, 27 Dec 2013 12:00:01 +0000 Fords are loaded for export at the Port of Baltimore. Photo: Bill McAllen / Port of Baltimore

Fords are loaded for export at the Port of Baltimore. Photo: Bill McAllen / Port of Baltimore

When most people think about countries that export cars one name that’s usually not on their list is the United States, but the U.S. is exporting more cars than ever. According to the Detroit News, the record total this year is likely to reach 2 million units and perhaps even more surprising than that number if the fact that half of the exports are cars made by GM, Ford and Chrysler. The remainder come from assembly plants located in the U.S. owned by German, Japanese and Korean automakers. Cars are the most valuable manufacturing export from the U.S., followed by aerospace. Spurring the growth in exports is the fact that the United States is currently one of the less expensive places to build a car, due to favorable currency exchange rates and reduced labor costs.

According to the United States Commerce Dept., last year’s automotive exports totaled $132.7 billion on approximately 1.8 million exported cars and trucks. The automotive trade deficit is still more than $100 billion with car imports grossly outweighing exports, but that deficit has been shrinking.

As would be expected, about half of U.S. automotive exports are to neighboring Canada and Mexico but the biggest growth is coming from outside of North America. Less than 10 years ago shipments to Mexico and Canada accounted for 80% of all U.S. vehicle exports. Now that figure is down to 49% and it continues to fall. Shipments to China have grown almost 600% since 2009 and one in nine vehicles exported from the U.S. now goes to China. Chrysler exports Jeeps there and next year Ford will being exporting Lincolns to China starting late next year.

Analysts say that U.S. car exports will likely not fall off as the Big 3 and their global competitors add more capacity inside China. That is because other markets in Latin American, Africa and the Mideast will continue to see increased demand for U.S. built cars and trucks. Still, the fastest growing markets, the so-called BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, are where car companies are building factories, following Isaac Singer and Henry Ford’s philosophy of “build where you sell”, so there may be a limit on export growth here in the U.S.

In addition to the domestics, Honda and Toyota both want to boost exports from the U.S. Honda wants all of its global regions to be export hubs, shipping 20-30% of their production out of their local markets. Honda says that its eventual goal is to export more cars from the U.S. than it’s importing here from Japan. Toyota recently added the Highlander to the its list of vehicles exported from its assembly operation in the U.S.

Most of the cars and trucks exported from the U.S. are models that are also sold here. Ford’s F-150, built in Dearborn, Michigan and Kansas City, Missouri, is exported to 49 countries. Joining Ford’s flagship pickup truck overseas will be the all-new 2015 Mustang. The new Mustang was designed specifically with export markets in mind, that is one reason why the car will over a turbocharged four cylinder engine. The Mustang is built in Flat Rock, Michigan and the assembly line there will also produce right hand drive versions for the UK, Australia and Japan.

Also built in the Detroit area specifically for export is the Opel Ampera, Opel’s version of the Chevy Volt, which is assembled at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant.

During the restructuring of the U.S. auto industry, in 2009 the United Auto Workers agreed to a two-tier wage system, with new hires making a little more than half of what veteran autoworkers make. Those agreements have secured the assignment of lots of production to the North American facilities operated by the domestic car companies. Those companies have also earmarked billions of dollars in upgrading existing U.S. plants to increase production.

While their assembly plants in the U.S. don’t use UAW labor, the strength of the Japanese currency, the yen, relative to the U.S. dollar, has made the U.S. a more attractive place for Japanese automakers to build their cars than back home.

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Fiat Resumes Negotiations to Buy Rest of Chrysler from UAW VEBA Mon, 23 Dec 2013 12:30:14 +0000

Bloomberg is reporting that Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has resumed talks with the UAW’s retiree health care trust (aka VEBA) to buy the 41.5% of Chrysler that the Italian automaker doesn’t yet own. Fiat executives met last week with the trust’s representatives. The proposed initial public offering of Chrysler stock has been delayed for tax reasons until next year, creating a window of opportunity for a deal. Differing valuations on the stock prompted VEBA’s demand for the IPO, which would establish a market price for the stock, most likely more than Marchionne and the Agnelli family that controls Fiat want to pay.

Fiat recently upped its offer, the first it has made since August. That offer was rejected but apparently the parties are close enough that negotiations have resumed. According to Bloomberg’s sources, advisers to the IPO estimated a market valuation of approximately $10 billion for Chrysler. Based on those estimates, Fiat is said to be offering about $4.2 billion, while the trust wants at least $5 billion. While $800 million is still a lot of money, the two parties are closer than ever before. Fiat does have the right to buy the remaining stake for about $6 billion so it’s not as though a corporate raider is going to swoop in and snatch the rest of Chrysler from Marchionne’s grasp, but the Fiat CEO doesn’t want to overpay.

Marchionne wants to merge Fiat and Chrysler to be able to compete with larger global rivals, and also so that Fiat can access Chrysler’s profits to help them weather the weakness of Fiat’s core market in Europe and develop replacements for their aging product line there. The more Fiat pays for the remaining share of Chrysler the less cash the merged company will have for product development on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

On the other side of the negotiating table, the health care trust is holding out for a maximum payout, particularly since a recent analysis says that their anticipated costs to provide health care to Chrysler UAW retirees will still exceed VEBA’s current assets including the 41.5% stake in Chrysler by more than $3 billion.

Representatives for Fiat and Chrysler officially declined to comment.

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UAW Wants to End Two-Tier Wages in Next Contract Wed, 18 Dec 2013 12:00:57 +0000 DetNews Photo

Norwood Jewell, a nominee to become a UAW vice-president, said that the autoworkers want to eliminate the two-tier wage system that pays new hires at a lower rate than higher seniority workers. The wage system was agreed to by the union to help the domestic automakers as they went through financial troubles when the economy turned down in 2007. New workers are paid slightly more than half of what veteran autoworkers earn.

“The international executive board hates two-tiers,” Jewell told Automotive News at a General Motors Co plant in Flint, Mich.  as the automaker was announcing $1.3 billion in investments in some of its plants in the U.S. midwest, mostly in Michigan. Jewell is currently director of UAW’s Flint region. ”We didn’t do two tiers because it’s a wonderful thing,” he said, explaining that the financial circumstances six years ago more or less forced the two tier wages on the union. “We hate them. We intend to eliminate them over time.”

Current UAW contracts with GM, Ford and Chrysler expire in 2015. The union’s resentment of the current two level wage structure combined with strong profits at all three domestic automakers in recent years along with the fact that higher tier workers haven’t gotten a pay raise in ten years means that negotiations on the new contract will be difficult.

The car companies say that the lower tier entry level wages are necessary for them to be able to compete on labor costs with the transplant assembly plants operated by German, Japanese and Korean automakers. New hires start at just under $16/hr, rising over time to over $19/hr. Veteran workers make about $28/hr.

Jewell said that a key tactic in eliminating the two-tier wages will be the unions organizing those non-union transplant facilities, mostly located in the southern U.S. ”If we don’t organize them and bring them up to our standard, we’re never going be able to totally eliminate the second tier,” he said.

Jewell also said that the companies’ profits will help the union make its case when contract talks are opened.

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Fiat Says No Chrysler IPO Before 2014 Tue, 26 Nov 2013 11:30:54 +0000 fiat-and-chrysler-logos_100193029_m

Though Chrysler-Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne had previously said that an initial public offering of Chrysler stock could take place by the end of 2013, the Italian automaker announced that stock sale will not take place before the new year. ”The Board of Directors of Chrysler Group … has determined that it will not be practicable for Chrysler Group to launch and complete an initial public offering prior to the end of 2013,” Fiat said in a statement.


The sale could help resolve the dispute between Fiat and the UAW’s health benefits trust, which owns 41.% of Chrysler, over the valuation of that stake, but a delay in the IPO could also delay Fiat’s full acquisition of the Auburn Hills based automaker. Marchionne would like to merge Fiat and Chrysler to create the world’s 7th largest auto firm and give Fiat access to Chrysler’s profits. Chrysler had initially filed paperwork for an IPO in late September.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chrysler would raise between 1.5 and 2 billion dollars with the IPO. That would give the company a market valuation of 9 to 12 billion dollars. Fiat declined to comment on the report.

Marchionne wants to merge the Fiat and Chrysler to create the world’s seventh-largest carmaker. Fiat has been hurt by the weak European market. The company’s plan to reduce losses in Europe depends on sharing technology, cash and dealer networks with Chrysler. The merger would also give Marchionne access to Chrysler’s profits and allow him to use that cash to shore up Fiat and expand its product offerings. The companies, while managed by the same people, must currently keep their finances separate.

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UAW Likely to Select Dennis Williams to Replace Bob King as President Mon, 21 Oct 2013 14:10:42 +0000 636-406-fit-con61610_bobdennisWith United Auto Workers president Bob King restricted by union bylaws from being reelected, the union is preparing to select his replacement. Industry watchers expect UAW secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams to be selected next month at a meeting of the UAW’s administrative caucus. Since all but one UAW presidents have been selected by the administrative caucus, the move will likely pave the way for Williams to succeed King, whose term ends in nine months. Before taking the national secretary-treasurer position Williams was the union’s Chicago area regional director.

UAW insiders view Williams as the likely choice because of his work as regional director, the respect he’s earned at Solidarity House since taking a national office and because he has ties to the Obama administration.  In 2007 Williams had a key role in Mr. Obama’s upset win in the Iowa caucuses that propelled him eventually to the White House. Williams role in trying to organize transplant operations owned by German and Asian automakers is also cited as a factor.

Union rules prohibit anyone older than 65 from taking an elected office. King is 67. The UAW’s vice president in charge of the union’s General Motors department, Joe Ashton, once seen as a possible president, is also now too old.  Jimmy Settles, vice president of the union’s Ford department, who had once expressed interest in to job apparently has changd his mind. “I am not a candidate,” Settles told the Detroit Free Press last week. “At one time I was interested. I am not now.”

The head of the union’s Chrysler department, General Holiefield, was also thought to be a possible replacement for King but rumors about his future have emerged since one of his top aides, James Hardy, suddenly retired.

Cindy Estrada, another UAW VP, is considered to have a bright future with the union but it would be a longshot for her to become the union’s first female president. Regional director, Gary Casteel, who has been involved with trying to organize Volkswagen and Nissan plants in the U.S. has also been mentioned for consideration.

It’s possible that a dissident candidate could emerge, but because of the way the union selects its officers, it’s unlikely than such a candidate could win.

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Italian Autoworkers’ Union, Fim Cisl, Sends Delegation to Detroit to Lobby UAW on Chrysler Fiat Merger Thu, 17 Oct 2013 13:49:34 +0000 fimuaw

The UAW has enlisted the help of the German IG Metall labor union in its effort to organize Volkswagen’s U.S. operations. Now Fiat has apparently gotten the union that represents its Italian workers, Fim Cisl, to reach out to UAW officials in an effort to resolve the issue of just how much Fiat is going to pay the UAW’s retiree health benefits trust for the 41.5% of Chrysler the VEBA owns. Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne wants to merge the two companies and that can’t be done without buying that stock. Fiat and the VEBA sides are more than a billion dollars apart.

Marchionne would like to avoid an initial public offering of Chrysler stock, which would complicate his merger plans. Per the VEBA’s rights, the process for an IPO has been started. Also no doubt the Fiat CEO would like to come to an agreed price before a trial for the valuation of some of the VEBA’s shares begins next September.

In an interview with the Automotive News, Ferdinando Uliano, who is in charge of relations with Fiat for Fim Cisl, said, ”We are concerned that a Chrysler initial public offering would harm a combination of the two carmakers. We’ll tell the UAW that only a merger of Fiat and Chrysler would grant a positive future for both companies’ workers.”

The Fim Cisl delegation plans to meet with UAW president Bob King and other UAW leaders in Detroit.

Merging the two companies would give Marchionne access to Chrysler’s $12 billion in cash to help finance Fiat’s turnaround in Europe. The Italian automaker is currently not profitable and it is losing market share in its home market of Europe. Fiat’s September sales in Europe were off by 3.4% as the overall market was up 5.5%.

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Volkswagen USA Doesn’t Want A Union, But Workers Will Get The Final Say Fri, 11 Oct 2013 12:00:47 +0000 Volkswagen SUV-Studie CrossBlue Coup

More drama in the ongoing Volkswagen unionization fight in Chattanooga: Volkswagen USA is not keen on the union, while Volkswagen’s management board is divided on the matter. One thing that seems certain is the prospect of a secret ballot vote on the union, according to Reuters.

TTAC readers are familiar by now with the drama over organization drives, union cards, and the like. But the report by Ben Klayman and Bernie Woodall (to veteran reporters with solid contacts at VW) is the first look at VW’s mindset, and the differing opinions both in the USA and Germany. Per Woodall and Klayman

While VW’s U.S. executives are hostile to the United Auto Workers, the eight-member management board may still ask the union to help set up a German-style employee board at the Chattanooga plant, said the person, who asked not to be identified.

The top executives feel that any final decision must be approved by the workers in a secret ballot to protect VW’s reputation and assuage investors and U.S. politicians, said the source, who did not identify the VW executives.

Beyond the weighty issue of union organization by the UAW at a foreign plant in the south is whether Chattanooga will get additional product. VW dealers are hungry for a crossover to take on vehicles like the Chevrolet Traverse and Honda Pilot, and Chattanooga is a proposed location for the car. But the vehicle (based on the CrossBlue concept, above) has become the center of a game of tug-of-war for both pro and anti union camps, who variously want to see the car built there or in Mexico for a whole host of reasons, including punishing Chattanooga for not recognizing the UAW (or alternately, rewarding it for doing so) or taking advantage of the cost savings and building it in Mexico, while conveniently skirting the UAW issue at the same time.

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VW’s Labor Leader To Meet With Chattanooga Workers Wed, 02 Oct 2013 15:28:08 +0000 2012-volkswagen-passat-front-three-quarters-chattanooga

The head of Volkswagen’s Works Council may soon be paying a visit to workers at Chattanooga to discuss the prospect of a works council. Reuters reports that Bernd Osterloh will be headed down south for a “dialogue” about representation. The UAW will not be present at the talks, but representatives of both VW and IG Metall, Germany’s largest labor union, will be in attendance.

Despite the UAW’s absence, the union and IG Metall have their respective ties, with UAW head Bob King acting as IG Metall’s labor representative on Opel’s supervisory board. The meeting is also occurring as the anti-union camp digs in its heels with a campaign aimed at thwarting the UAW’s organization drive.

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Workers At Chattanooga Start Anti-UAW Petition Tue, 01 Oct 2013 13:56:03 +0000 VW-11-1786-450x301 (1)

A group of workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee plant is circulating a petition aimed at stopping the UAW’s attempt to organize the plant.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, paint shop employee Mike Burton, the man behind the petition, said

“We’ll report the percentage of team members who are with us. I have no doubt it will be over 50%,”

Burton is one of seven Chattanooga employees who launched a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the UAW’s “card check” process, where workers sign cards claiming that they want the UAW to represent them. However, this has been controversial, as some workers, including Burton, allege that the card process was misrepresented to them. They say that the cards were pitched as a way to get more information about the UAW, not a way to approve of the UAW representing them. Workers also reported that those who asked for their cars back were directed to a UAW office to recover them.

Labor representatives in Germany are pushing for Volkswagen to establish a works council at Chattanooga, however US law would require union representation for this to happen. Along with the United States Volkswagen plants in China and Russia do not have works councils at all, or in the case of Russia, they are not integrated with Volkswagen’s global labor organization.


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Under Pressure From UAW VEBA, Chrysler Files For IPO, Fiat Not Thrilled Tue, 24 Sep 2013 10:30:55 +0000 vebafiatchrysler

After Fiat and Chrysler’s retired UAW workers’ health care benefits trust were unable to agree on a price for the Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association‘s 41.5% share in the Auburn Hills automaker, at the trust’s request Chrysler has filed initial paperwork for a public stock offering to sell part of the VEBA’s stake, about 16% of overall Chrysler shares, the first time in over a decade that the public will be able to own shares in Chrysler, which formerly was wholly owned by Cerberus and before that Daimler. Fiat certainly would rather the IPO not take place now as it complicates Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s plans for the Italian automaker to acquire full ownership of Chrysler. The benefits trust has the legal right to force Chrysler to make the stock offering so the VEBA can cash out on the shares it received in exchange for giving up financial claims against Chrysler during the company’s bankruptcy and bailout by governments in the United States and Canada.

Not only does the VEBA have an opportunity to get a windfall of cash, a billion dollars or more, it also gets a chance to let the open market decide on the value of the remaining ~25% of Chrysler it will still own after the IPO, as the trust continues to negotiate with Fiat. Some automotive industry pundits see the request for the IPO as a tactic by the trust to get a higher price from the Italian car company. “It’s a very, very high-stakes battle going on here,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor of labor at the University of California-Berkeley. “Both sides are being quite strategic, and we’ll see how it plays out.” Marchionne told analysts earlier this year, “Fiat remains available to continue the discussion.”

In the background there is also an ongoing court case over the valuation of the trust’s stake, said by Fiat to be worth $3 billion and by the VEBA significantly more than that.

There are risks in an IPO for all three parties, the VEBA, Chrysler, and Fiat. Possible investors might shy away since the logical buyer, Fiat, won’t be participating. That could depress the stock value, which wouldn’t be a good thing for Chrysler, or for the matter, Fiat, which owns the other 58.5% of Chrysler.

The IPO would not change Fiat’s control over Chrysler, but without 100% ownership, Fiat cannot tap into the cash reserves Chrysler has banked on its success since the bankruptcy. In the second quarter of 2013, Chrysler profits were over half a billion dollars, up 16% from the same quarter in 2012. Those revenues have helped offset weakness in Fiat’s main market in Europe.

The JPMorgan Chase bank will be underwriting the I.P.O.

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Marchionne: No Deal Yet For VEBA Shares, Chrysler IPO Would Delay Fiat Merger Mon, 16 Sep 2013 11:00:46 +0000 CHRYSLER_HOUSE_01 (1)

On Friday, Sergio Marchionne, who heads Fiat and Chrysler, told reporters in Milan, Italy that he hasn’t gotten any closer to making a deal with the UAW’s retiree health care trust for Fiat to purchase the VEBA’s shares in Chrysler and take full ownership of the Auburn Hills automaker. The UAW health care trust owns 41.5% of Chrysler and the two parties have not been able to agree on a price. The trust is demanding $5 billion for its shares. Marchionne told the LaPresse news agency, concerning the UAW trust’s suggested price, “They should buy a lottery ticket.”

Marchionne said that though an initial public offering of Chrysler stock could delay a merger with Fiat, his team was preparing for such an IPO in order to comply with a request from the VEBA, which has the legal right to ask for an IPO. The filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will be ready by the end of the month. Marchionne said that an IPO for Chrysler could be ready by the end of the year but that he thought that financial markets would be more receptive in the first quarter of 2014.

The Fiat CEO would rather buy the trust’s shares in a block rather than have to buy them back piecemeal from the public should the trust sell them on the open market.

After a July court ruling siding with Fiat over the VEBA concerning the price of a smaller tranche of Chrysler shares, the two sides have failed to agree on a price for the trust’s remaining stake.

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