Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne did something unprecedented in contract negotiations that conceivably could damage the UAW's effort to organize the transplants.
Two hours before Chrysler's contract with the UAW was to expire on Wednesday, Sept. 14, Marchionne sent a smoldering letter to UAW President Bob King, questioning whether King and the union had really changed.
Marchionne criticized King for not showing up for a meeting to complete a new four-year labor agreement that had been largely done. The dressing-down strikes at the heart of the image King has tried to portray to the transplants: that the "UAW of the 21st century" has eschewed adversarial ways.
"And we even agreed that were we still around in 2011, we would not go back to the old adversarial and confrontational ways of the past to resolve unsettled matters: that we would have someone else arbitrate our differences," Marchionne wrote King in the widely leaked letter.
"Until now, there have been encouraging signs of a new paradigm governing the relationship between us."
The UAW isn't commenting, and Chrysler won't say if it was a scheduled meeting King missed or whether the two had merely agreed a week earlier to get together on deadline day.
King has said the UAW's survival rests on its ability to organize the transplants in right-to-work states, including at least one automaker this year.
Marchionne wrote that he had flown from Frankfurt early just to meet with King -- only to be told the UAW president was busy with other negotiations, despite an agreement to settle the Chrysler contract before the deadline.
Chrysler and the UAW agreed to extend the contract another week. But Marchionne's pen had painted King in the worst possible light for a union leader: as unreliable.