As worker anger grows, Chrysler buys votes

As the anger of Chrysler employees about their recently negotiated tentative contract put into question the entire deal, last week the company moved at the last minute to try to buy votes from 600 “enhanced temporary workers” at its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant. The plant employs 3,800 workers and is one of the company’s largest.

Chrysler, on Oct. 24, told each of the 600 enhanced temporary workers at the plant that they will receive a $3,000 signing bonus if they vote to approve the contract. The offer was made after a Bloomberg News tally released Oct. 23 showed 11,160 votes against the contract and only 9,210 for the deal.

Members of the UAW executive council reportedly went to the plant a day earlier to promise those workers that they would be the first in line for full-time positions.

Six large locals, most of them representing workers at assembly plants, have turned down the deal, while nine small locals approved it. Chrysler has 45,000 UAW members, but neither the company nor the union will say how many workers are eligible to vote, leaving room for disputes over the legitimacy of final vote tallies.

The attempt to buy the votes of temporary workers at Belvidere is notable because those workers constitute a second tier, or second class, at that plant. Belvidere was the first assembly plant to institute what amounted to a full scale two-tier wage/benefits system almost two years ago. The “enhanced temporaries” there work side by side with regular employees, doing the same work but earning far less in pay and benefits.

Tom Littlejohn, president of Local 1268 in Belvidere, is one of the UAW leaders who opposed the pact. “I’m not recommending that the workers in my plant ratify this,” he said. Littlejohn had been pushing for total elimination of the second-class status for the temporaries in his plant.

Even if the contract is approved, it is clear that it has been spurned by the majority of auto assembly workers. They do not feel that it goes far enough to secure work for Chrysler plants as far into the future as does the agreement with GM. They also oppose both a two-tier wage system and the offloading of health care responsibility by the company onto the laps of the union.

jwojcik @pww.org