Union workers at Chrysler LLCs third-largest U.S. assembly plant overwhelmingly rejected the tentative Chrysler-UAW contract in a ratification vote Thursday, Oct. 18.
About 81 percent of the voting workers at the St. Louis North assembly plant said no to the accord that UAW leadership agreed to after a six-hour strike this month.
The vote presages rough sledding for the contract at several other large Chrysler locals whose leaders oppose the accord. The UAW hopes to wrap up ratification voting for the 48,000 affected workers by Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Nearly 8,000 more workers are scheduled to vote today, according to union locals.
A source in St. Louis said workers mainly were concerned about the introduction of a lower wage and benefit package for new hires. They also were concerned about a plan to designate up to a third of all factory jobs as noncore, meaning new hires to those jobs would start at the lower-tier wage of $14 an hour or about half of what production workers earn, the source said.
In another vote Thursday, the contract was ratified at Chryslers Kenosha Engine operation in Wisconsin by the 800 factory members of UAW Local 72. It was approved 82 to 18 percent, said Curt Wilson, shop chairman at Local 72.
Local officials in St. Louis were stunned by the margin of the rejection. About 1,400 of the plants 2,300 UAW workers voted. The plant makes Dodge Ram pickups.
The source said St. Louis South, where minivans are made, also would likely reject the deal. The plant employs about 2,850.
Tom Littlejohn, president of Chryslers Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant, also has been vocal in his opposition. Belvidere, with about 3,000 UAW workers, makes the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass and Patriot.
The unofficial leader of the contract opposition, Bill Parker, is president of another big local, UAW Local 1700, at Chryslers Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant. Sterling Heights, which employs more than 2,000, builds the Chrysler Sebring, Sebring convertible and Dodge Avenger.
Parker put together a minority report of the accord last week, saying the UAW should go back to the bargaining table to get a better deal.
In Kenosha, Wilson said workers there saw good and bad in the contract but thought it was the best deal possible to protect jobs.
He said terms can be revisited in four years during the next contract negotiations if conditions improve at Chrysler. The automaker has struggled with losses as consumers have chosen more fuel-efficient cars instead of Chrysler products, which are dominated by trucks, SUVs and minivans.
In a separate but related development, Chrysler plans to cut more than 1,110 contract workers and 1,000 salaried jobs, a person briefed on the plan said.
Chrysler's current restructuring plan, announced in February when the automaker was put up for sale by Daimler, included cuts of 13,000 jobs including 2,000 salaried jobs as part of a bid to return to profitability by 2009.
Reuters contributed to this report