The United Auto Workers told Congress yesterday the financially strapped Chrysler Corp. can count on "significant" economic concessions from the union, as well as up to $850 million in pension fund loans if Congress will guarantee them against default.
UAW President Douglas A. Fraser submitted these and other sacrificial offerings to a House Banking subcommittee in hopes of prodding Congress to approve a federal aid package generous enough to save Chrysler without forcing it to sell off its most profitable enterprises.
After its earlier request for $1.2 billion in federal laon guarantees were rejected, Chrysler this week gave the Treasury Department a scaled-down $750 million loan request that envisages selling off some of the company's best money-making operations.
Fraser said the UAW continues to back the full $1.2 billion in loan guarantees. It would be a "disaster," he said, if the government loaned Chrsyler money at the price of its ability to make money on its own.
In answer to criticsim some Republicans that the UAW sacrifices are insufficient, Fraser said the union's 110,000 Chrysler workers would also consider actual pay and benefit cuts -- but only if workers "had the ability to save Chrysler, which we don't."
He also frowned on suggestions that the union tap its $240 million strike fund to help Chrysler, saying it would violate the UAW's constitution. But he said the workers will not strike Chrysler so long as a walkout could jeopardize its survival.
What Fraser did pledge was deferral of $250 million in pension-funding payments from Chrysler and an agreement for union bargainers to seek less in wage and benefit increases for Chrysler workers that is has already won for their coworkers at the General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
The recently negotiated GM and Ford contracts provide for economic gains of 33 percent over the next three years. Fraser said details of the Chrysler concessions will be disclosed after contract negotiations with the company are completed, possibly by next week.
Nothing that the UAW has a jealously guarded tradition of uniform compensation among the Big Three automakers, Fraser said, "It (the concessions) was a very difficult thing for us . . . It defied 42 years of experience."
As for further assistance, he told the subcommittee, "any reasonable request would be fulfilled."
Under questioning from several subcommittee members, he said the union would not stand in the way of loans from the $850 million Chrysler pension fund so long as the loans were fully guaranteed.
At one point the Treasury Department floated such an idea, but it would require a change in federal pension laws, which has reportedly raised hackles among legislative protectors of pension laws, especially in the Senate.
Although describing himself as "no apologist for Chrysler," Fraser expressed confidence in Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca's ability to turn the company around and in the outlook for Chrysler cars. He also reiterated his contention that the nation as a whole -- and Detroit in particular -- would suffer deeply if Chrysler goes down.
In contrast to the subcommittee's generally favorable respone to Fraser's presentation, Rep. Richard Kelley (R-Fla.) tore into the union, accusing it of helping to "wreck the country" with exorbitant wages, which he described as 50 to 100 percent higher than those earned by most production workers. Fraser conceded they are higher but said the disparity is justified by the relatively high productivity of the auto industry.