Autoworkers reject Chrysler contract, saying they want a bigger piece of the industry’s recovery

By Lydia DePillis

Tony Stephens, Ford Local 900 member, protests the provisions of a tentative contract reached with Fiat Chrysler, outside the UAW Solidarity House in Detroit, on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (David Coates/The Detroit News via AP)

In a rare move, Fiat-Chrysler’s 40,000 workers appear to have rejected a new contract deal in votes that will end today, demanding the return of what they sacrificed during the Detroit Three automakers’ darkest days.

They included Brian Keller, who was one of the lucky ones.

After leaving the Navy, he got hired at Chrysler as a housekeeper in 1999, right after the merger with Daimler had sent market expectations soaring. Even when the company’s fortunes declined and it outsourced its housekeeping work in 2007, Keller got another job picking parts at Mopar, a Chrysler subsidiary.

Now, he makes $28 an hour — about $9 more than most people hired after the United Auto Workers agreed to a lower rate for new recruits, helping the company weather bankruptcy and emerge healthy on the other side.

But Keller expected the reductions to be temporary, and for the union to negotiate a return to equal pay for equal work. The division is unhealthy, even for those in the privileged “Tier 1.”

“It’s demeaning,” Keller says. “You got people who are working side by side with you who are working half what you make, and can’t even afford the product that they build. It makes it hard for them.”

That’s partly why he campaigned against the union’s tentative contract with Fiat Chrysler of America — and why the rest of the membership agreed, defeating the proposal by a resounding margin. That means the union could go back to the bargaining table with Chrysler, take a break and turn to GM or Ford — or mount the auto industry’s<a class="colorbox" …read more