Chrysler Corp.'s return to profitability has whetted the appetite of the United Auto Workers union, which has sacrificed about $1.068 billion in wages and benefits since 1979 to help the company avoid bankruptcy.
UAW President Owen Bieber said at a meeting here tonight that he will convene the union's Chrysler Bargaining Committee on July 22 to consider reopening the UAW contract with the company.
Under the current agreement, which expires in January, Chryser UAW workers are paid about $2.12 less in hourly wages than their counterparts at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
Bieber said he does not expect his Chrysler members to reach parity with GM and Ford workers before the end of 1983. But he said that, should the union and the company agree to renegotiate, the union will seek an increase to make Chrysler workers' pay "substantially higher" than what they earn now.
The implication was that parity, though not reachable in 1983, could be achieved through step increases soon afterwards.
"The fact is that there is money there now. There are good profits," Bieber said, alluding to Chrysler's 1983 first-quarter earnings of $170 million and the company's expected second-quarter profits of about $271 million.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reported that Chrysler may announce on Wednesday that it is preparing to pay off its remaining $800 million in federally guaranteed loans.
Chairman Lee A. Iacocca would neither confirm nor deny such plans Monday, promising only "a pretty big show" when he speaks to a National Press Club audience in a Washington, D.C., hotel Wednesday.
Chrysler originally borrowed $1.2 billion in guaranteed loans out of the $1.5 billion authorized by Congress. Last month, far earlier than expected, Chrysler repaid $400 million of the federally backed loans with cash it had on hand. Chrysler is not required to pay off any of the loans until 1990 .