No hard feelings, or money, from King-Marchionne dust-up

David Barkholz covers labor issues for Automotive News.

DETROIT -- There is no way that Chrysler’s Sergio Marchionne and UAW President Bob King will let their dust-up this week snag labor negotiations.

King no-showed Marchionne on Wednesday, the date the Chrysler CEO expected to sign a new four-year contract with the UAW.

And Marchionne voiced his displeasure in a two-page letter to King that lectured the union boss on his responsibilities. Consider that the end of it.

Both Marchionne and King are too smart and too busy to let the clash delay a deal. It will get done quickly upon the return of Marchionne to Detroit from Europe early next week.

The terms of the contract, though, will be exactly as they left them: dominated by Chrysler.

Before the formal talks began with the UAW, Chrysler negotiators informed King that there would be no increase in labor costs over the next four years.

The message was clear: If you want a bigger signing bonus for workers, a raise for entry-level workers or performance bonuses, put them on the table. But expect you’re going to have to take away the amount from something else, such as health care spending.

That dynamic hasn’t and won’t change. Why?

The UAW can’t strike Chrysler until 2015, and the alternative of binding arbitration over economic issues favors Chrysler because decisions will be pegged to the pay scales of lower-paying transplants.

Nobody but King, and perhaps UAW-Chrysler Vice President General Holiefield, knows why King apparently didn’t have the courtesy to call Marchionne on Wednesday to delay or postpone their get-together. King reportedly was at General Motors working on that contract.

But Marchionne has signaled that he won’t tolerate such foolishness.

As his letter to King indicated, Chrysler employees, both hourly and salaried, have worked too hard over the past two years to restore the quality of products and the image of the automaker to be waylaid by anybody.

The letter clearly salutes employee contributions while warning King not to let the UAW fall back into the old adversarial and confrontational ways.

The latter point is the only one that caused a permanent scar. Marchionne’s decision to raise that specter severely damaged the image that King has tried to portray to the transplant automakers -- that they should not be afraid of the UAW’s organizing drives because the union has changed its ways to cooperative partnership.

And things could get worse on that front. King could still face a strike at Ford Motor Co. if the rank-and-file reject a deal he negotiates there.

As for the Chrysler-UAW talks, nothing’s changed. Mr. Marchionne’s door will be wide open upon his return. So bring a pen, Mr. King.

But don’t expect to get a thin dime more than the Wednesday night you left Mr. Marchionne alone at his computer.

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