DETROIT - One thing is certain: The UAW labor contract with Chrysler Corp. will continue into 1999 even after the automaker merges with Daimler-Benz AG.
Most everything else about the merger is a big question mark, according to UAW President Steve Yokich.
For example, it is unclear if the deal will help the UAW organize the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Alabama. For now, though, Yokich says he is pleased with the merger.
'We think it's good for the Chrysler workers and our unions,' Yokich said at a press conference Thursday, May 7, in Detroit.
The UAW contract with Chrysler, which runs until Sept. 14, 1999, is protected from situations like this by a 'successor clause,' Yokich said.
Chrysler's contract with the Canadian Auto Workers also is secure until it expires Sept. 21, 1999, said CAW President Buzz Hargrove. Speaking from the CAW headquarters in Toronto, Hargrove called the merger a 'win-win-win' for union members and the two companies.
Yokich said the merger also will not affect the union's schedule next year when it negotiates new three-year contracts with the Big 3.
'We'll do the same thing we did three years ago,' he said.
Yokich met with Dennis Pawley, Chrysler executive vice president of manufacturing, and other company officials about the merger the night of May 6. Hargrove met with Pawley and company the morning of May 7.
Despite this, Yokich said he still has many questions that will not be answered until he sits down with representatives from Chrysler, Daimler-Benz AG, the CAW and the German unions.
'Obviously we're going to talk about the plant in Alabama,' he said, referring to the nonunion Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala. The UAW has been working with German union leaders on unionizing that facility, as well as BMW AG's plant in Spartanburg County, S.C., according to Yokich.
Another question is whether the UAW will have a voice in the new company as the German unions have at Daimler-Benz. At the German company, labor representative have seats on the supervisory board of directors.
Having seats on the supervisory board 'would be in our best interest,' Har-grove said. 'We just have to sort out what the structure of the new company will be.'
Yokich did not say whether the UAW should have seats on the supervisory board.
UAW officials have experience serving as company directors. The union once had a seat on Chrysler's board, and currently UAW Vice President Jack Laskowski serves on Navistar International Corp.'s board of directors.
'It's really been beneficial and has worked in the best interests of that membership,' Laskowski said. By gaining insight into Navistar's corporate strategy, the UAW was able to work out a new contract that runs until 2002, he said.
The UAW also has worked with Daimler-Benz indirectly through its U.S. subsidiary, Freightliner Corp.
Yokich does not expect the merger to result in layoffs. 'When you look at it, I think it helps Chrysler,' he said. 'It makes them stronger.'
Yokich said he is not concerned with the size of the merger. 'It's the largest manufacturing merger, but they're still the fourth-largest car company,' he said.
'I don't think the world's going to change.'
Yokich said he was surprised when Pawley called him with the news the night of May 5. 'Usually we find out (earlier). Somebody sends me a memo or something.'