BELVIDERE, Ill. (AP) — The last union members in the nation to weigh in on a landmark four-year contract between Chrysler LLC and the United Auto Workers began voting at a community center gymnasium here Friday.
Voting started at 6:30 a.m. CDT — at the center a few miles from an assembly plant and UAW hall — and was scheduled to continue until 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
Informational meetings were planned at the center throughout the day.
It would take an overwhelming turnout and ''no'' vote by the about 3,300 members of Local 1268 — the only local that hadn't completed voting — for the contract to fail, according to some of the people opposed to the agreement.
Regardless of how they voted, union members said Friday they were concerned about the deal's ramifications, particularly the lower-tier wage scale for newly hired ''noncore'' employees who do not build vehicles or manufacture parts.
''I just don't like the idea ... that a guy working next to me may have to settle for a less wage,'' said Jeffery Cole, 48, of Rockford, Ill., who has worked 13 years for Chrysler, the past two in Belvidere as a quality inspector.
Cole, who voted ''no,'' said his primary concern was that wage increases in the contract would not even keep pace with the rate of inflation.
Arne Brostuen, 54, who has worked at the plant for more than 12 years, would not say how he voted. But the Beloit, Wis., resident said he, too, was concerned about the two-tier wage scale, wondering what it might do to all workers' pensions.
''If there's nobody paying into it, it's going to run dry,'' he said. ''Somebody's got to pay into the pension to have a pension.''
One employee who voted in favor of the deal said she wasn't happy about it. Gwen Vanover, 52, of Belvidere, said her concern also centered on the provisions regarding noncore employees.
''However they want to term it, it's still a two-tier wage,'' said Vanover, who joined Chrysler in 1998 and was transferred from Detroit to Belvidere 1½ years ago. ''And I figure if you're paying union dues and doing the same kind of work,'' employees should make the same wages and benefits, she said.
Vanover, who remains concerned about the weak economy and weak union membership, thinks the union leadership ''did the best they could.''
Local 1268 represents employees at a stamping plant and assembly plant in Belvidere that makes the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot.
As recently as Tuesday the pact was losing after large locals in Kokomo, Ind., voted it down, but workers at four Michigan assembly and stamping plants in Sterling Heights and Warren had a strong turnout on Wednesday and voted largely in favor. The Sterling Heights and Warren votes pushed the favorable vote ahead, according to a person who was briefed on a running ballot count.
The person, who did not want to be identified because the voting has not ended, said more than 55 percent of the 25,000 UAW members who had voted were in favor of the pact after Wednesday night.
Based on that running tally, it would take something like 3,000 ''no'' votes with zero ''yes'' votes for the contract to be sunk in Belvidere.
Belvidere's local president, Tom Littlejohn, has spoken out against the deal, which was reached Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike.
About 45,000 UAW workers at Chrysler are covered by the four-year contract, which has been called historic by industry analysts who believe it will make the company more competitive with Japanese automakers.