TORONTO (CP) — The head of the Canadian Auto Workers was not surprised members of the United Auto Workers voted Saturday to approve a new four-year contract agreement with Chrysler LLC, but Buzz Hargrove voiced disappointment with a deal he said fails to resolve issues of foreign competition and health care. He also noted the narrow ratification indicated significant dissent among the workforce.
Union officials said 56 per cent of production workers and 51 per cent of skilled trades workers voted for the pact. The percentages voting in favor were much higher among clerical workers and engineers represented by the union. ''It shows there's an enormous amount of dissent among the rank and file members,'' said Hargrove. ''People are very concerned about job security.''
The new contract covers about 45,000 active workers at Chrysler and more than 55,000 Chrysler retirees and 23,000 surviving spouses. It will expire on Sept. 14, 2011.
UAW and Chrysler bargainers reached the agreement Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike. The deal came the same day the union announced that General Motors Corp. workers had approved a similar contract. Hargrove noted the first deal always sets the pace for contracts with the other big auto makers.
''Once the U-A-W established a pattern at General Motors and it was ratified, historically the second and third companies ratify the contract as well,'' he said. But Hargove went on to paint a gloomy picture with a template he felt lets the companies off the hook in the fight to bring fairness in trade between domestic auto makers and foreign-owned companies.
''I think the agreement (with Chrysler and General Motors) worsens things in the sense that one more time the U-S government is let off the hook in terms of dealing with the trade issue.'' Hargrove said, adding that his union will not go down a similar road when they deal with the Big Three automakers in July of 2008.
Hargrove also pointed out many American workers opposed the agreement because it establishes lower wages for some non-core, non-assembly workers. The contract also doesn't make as many promises for future work at U.S. plants as the contract approved by the GM workers. He also lamented a deal that shifts health-care costs to the union, taking companies out of the battle to pressure the government for universal health care. But he also acknowledged the union can't influence what fights the companies choose to take on.
''The role of the union in my mind is to push as much as we can for investment, and deal with the issue of job security with retirement incentives, through buyouts for people who want to move on... and to get some income support for a period of time following restructuring,'' Hargrove said.
Chrysler, which became a private company in August when it was bought by Cerberus Capital Management LLC, said the agreement will make the company more competitive. But Hargrove maintained that savings in labour costs would not make any difference to the foreign trade issue.