FCA's union workers set strike authorization vote for Aug. 20

The UAW has scheduled a strike authorization vote on Aug. 20 for its 37,000 members at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Under the union’s constitution, members must vote to authorize their negotiators to call a strike in the event of a bargaining impasse with any of the Detroit 3, said Art Schwartz, a former labor negotiator at General Motors and president of Labor and Economics Associates.

The UAW and Detroit 3 started negotiating in earnest after the July 4 holiday. The current four-year contracts expire Sept. 14.

GM’s UAW workers are scheduled to vote Aug. 27 whether to authorize a strike.

An official at a Ford UAW local said the union hasn’t given the chapters instructions to schedule a vote yet.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to comment about the votes.

Schwartz said the votes are routine, usually resulting for authorization by 98 percent or more of those counted.

Bill Parker, an assembler at FCA’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit, said he hopes the vote authorization sends a message that workers are serious about striking if they don’t get relief from stagnant wages and a two-tier system that pays entry-level workers roughly half what veteran workers earn.

“We’re prepared to strike if necessary,” he said.

UAW Local 1700, which represents the Sterling Heights plant, has been holding strike preparation training classes for rank-and-file workers, said Parker, who served as local president for many years.

Schwartz said the classes would encourage workers to save some money for a strike and inform them what is required of them on the picket line to receive strike pay.

Current strike benefits are $200 per week along with health care coverage and life insurance, according to the UAW’s website. That’s a fraction of a worker’s regular weekly wages.

Schwartz said it’s been decades since the UAW has held a long strike against any of the Detroit 3 over national contracts.

2-day strike

In 2007, workers at GM struck for two days over their contract until the automaker sweetened it with detailed plant investment plans and job promises.

Bargaining could be the most contentious in years.

UAW President Dennis Williams has promised to “bridge the gap” in these talks between the $28 an hour in wages paid to legacy workers and the $16-an-hour starting wages of entry-level workers.

Fulfilling that pledge would be most expensive at FCA, where the automaker has about 45 percent of its hourly workforce made up of Tier 2 vs. 28 percent at Ford and 19 percent at GM.

Veteran workers also are clamoring for a wage increase. They have not had one in 10 years.

The Detroit 3 will try to keep any increase in labor costs under new contracts at about the rate of inflation. GM and Ford’s labor costs today are $57 an hour, about $10 more than FCA and the U.S. operations of the German, Japanese and Korean automakers.

Nick Bunkley contributed to this report.

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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