Auto union to General Dynamics, Chrysler: no more wage concessions
The United Auto Workers union aims to reverse a pattern of negotiated wage and benefits concessions in bargaining opening this week and next. In the unrelated talks with General Dynamics Corporation and Chrysler Corporation, the UAW's goal is to win substantial gains.
The negotiations have backgrounds in the union's help to Chrysler when it was threatened by bankruptcy more than a year ago:
* General Dynamics, which opened contract talks with the UAW in Detroit on July 14, bought Chrysler's Army tank-building operations in St. Louis early this year and thus has benefited from wage and other concessions Chrysler made to the UAW in 1980-81. General Dynamics, as a defense contractor, is prospering in the US military buildup. The UAW says it wants ''the concessions back, as a starting point,'' and says that it intends to ask for ''something more'' for General Dynamics' 5,200 UAW-represented workers.
* Chrysler negotiations with the auto union will get under way July 20. The UAW-Chrysler Council, which met recently in Memphis, adopted bargaining strategy for closing the wage and benefits gap opened between Chrysler workers and those of General Motors and Ford when the union gave the No. 3 automaker concessions expected to save Chrysler $1 billion through this August. The union bargaining group ''absolutely'' barred further concessions now and said that a ''saved'' Chrysler must begin repaying its workers for their sacrifices.
Tough negotiations are ahead, particularly between General Dynamics and the UAW. The defense contractor has a record of toughness in its dealings with labor and it has indicated that it will resist any large increase in labor costs that might affect its contracts with the Army for M-1 tanks and prospects for tank sales overseas.
A General Dynamics spokesman says the firm will not try to match auto contracts. He says wage terms ''will be negotiated on a basis of today's wages, with no catch-up.''
The UAW, which calls General Dynamics ''a very profitable company,'' insists that it should wipe out a wage gap of about $2.50 an hour between its employees and those of GM and Ford.
Marc Stepp, a UAW vice-president, told reporters last week that he ''expects a strike before this is over.'' If so, it will be the first in the tank operation, which Chrysler ran for four decades with labor peace.
The UAW says it believes the worst is over for Chrysler. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1980 and '81 after losses of $3.5 billion over three years. It had closed eight operations and cut jobs by more than 30,000 when the union, the federal government, and banks moved in to save the company.
Chrysler ended its first 1982 quarter with a profit, based largely on the $ 336 million sale of its defense subsidiary. Industry analysts at the UAW look for Chrysler to make a ''real'' profit this year as its share of the US-make auto market continues steady gains, to 12.5 percent now.
In setting bargaining goals, says UAW president Douglas Fraser, the union's ''bottom line is that Chrysler still exists and would make a profit in a hurry if the economy would turn around.''
Mr. Fraser, who is a Chrysler director as a part of the concessions agreement , insists that there will be ''absolutely no more concessions'' to the company. Despite concessions to Ford and GM this year, Chrysler pay still lags behind that of the two top automakers. The union says the gap must be closed.