Chrysler, UAW In Contract Talks Over The Weekend

Saturday, October 6th 2007, 7:05 pm
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Negotiators with the United Auto Workers union and Chrysler LLC were at the bargaining table Saturday as efforts to reach a tentative contract agreement intensified.

Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson confirmed that both parties were talking. A message was left for UAW spokesman Roger Kerson seeking comment.

The UAW reached a tentative agreement with General Motors Corp. on Sept. 26 but the agreement must be ratified by a majority of GM's UAW members to take effect. Members began voting last week and are expected to wrap up votes by Wednesday.

A person briefed on the talks said late Friday that the UAW selected Chrysler as its next bargaining target and would turn to Ford Motor Co. last. The person requested anonymity because the talks are private.

A message was left with Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans seeking comment.

The UAW typically reaches an agreement with one automaker and then tries to get the others to match the terms. But it's unclear whether Chrysler and Ford will match GM's agreement. Chrysler is seeking health care concessions that the UAW already granted to Ford and GM, for example. Chrysler and Ford also may balk at making specific product commitments at U.S. plants, as GM did.

Another sticking point in the talks is a UAW-managed retiree health care trust that GM's agreement would establish. Under the agreement, GM would put nearly $30 billion into the trust and pay $5.4 billion to cover retirees' health care until the trust starts paying out benefits in 2010.

GM has a total of $51 billion in unfunded retiree health costs, but it wasn't required to put that full amount into the trust. Chrysler has around $19 billion in unfunded retiree health costs.

Another person briefed on the talks said Friday that Chrysler wants to tailor the health care plan to better suit its needs and might not want to contribute as much as GM. The trust benefits GM more than Chrysler or Ford because GM has the most retirees and surviving spouses. GM also has an older workforce with more employees on the verge of retirement. That person also requested anonymity because the talks are private.

The UAW's contracts with Chrysler, Ford and GM were originally set to expire Sept. 14. The UAW selected GM as the lead company and strike target in the negotiations and reached the tentative agreement after a two-day strike. Chrysler and Ford have been extending their contracts indefinitely.