Will Chrysler workers nix their UAW contract; and, what happens next?

A series of local union chapters are scheduled to vote this weekend on a tentative agreement between the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union and carmaker Chrysler. Normally, this would be a routine endorsement of a deal cut by union leaders. Nevertheless, this time, things might just turn out different.

Early voting on the contract, reached on 10 October after a six-hour strike, seems mixed. Chrysler executives said on Friday, 19 October that they expect the vote to be close, though they believed the pact would be approved. Voting ends next week. The outcome could determine how things go at Ford Motor, the last of the three big Detroit companies to negotiate with the UAW.

Union leaders approved the Chrysler agreement on Monday, despite opposition from local leaders including Bill Parker, who led the union's bargaining committee. Parker's biggest objections are a two-tier wage structure and new job classifications that would result in lower wages for workers at three plants.

The dissidents also say that Chrysler's future investments do not seem as secure as those at General Motors (GM) do, where workers approved a new contract last week. However, at GM, workers are not protected from temporary layoffs. This week, GM said it would eliminate shifts at plants in Pontiac, Michigan, and Detroit, because of slower sales.

So, it looks like for the first time in decades, there is a very real possibility of rejection of a union contract. However, UAW leaders have already begun to lobby local leaders to push for approval of the agreement. Some contract details are still to be finalised, and the company could come up with assurances or provisions at particular plants that could help swing the vote in favour of the contract.

Nevertheless, if the contract still seems headed for defeat, the union could suspend the voting and go on to Ford in hopes of reaching an agreement there. At Chrysler's St Louis North plant, which produces pickups, workers overwhelmingly rejected the contract on Thursday, but a smaller plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin, approved it.