The financially stricken Chrysler Corp., in an unprecedented move for one of the Big Three automakers asked the United Auto Workers yesterday for a two-year freeze on wages and benefits.
UAW President Douglas A. Fraser called the proposal unacceptable but did not rule out special considerations for Chrysler after a pattern for a new three-year auto industry contract has been set at the General Motors Corp. and the Ford Motor Co.
"Our leadership has never turned its back on its duty and responsibility said Fraser in remarks to the press that a Chrysler official interpreted as "quite supportive" of the company's plight.
The UAW already has ruled out Chrysler as a strike target and joined the company in asking Washington for $1 billion in financial hep. The union, known for its bargaining innovations, is considered likely to press for noneconomic contract breakthroughs in exchange for any financial concessions it may make, although union officials say it is premature to speculate on any tradeoffs.
In an apparent attempt to dramatize the company's plight and show Washington it intends to streamline operations, Chrysler President Lee A. Iacocca appeared at the bargaining table at Chrysler headquarters in Highland Park, Mich. It was a rare if not unprecedented move for an auto company president. There, he bid for the wage-benefit freeze.
For nearly two hours, Iacocca reportedly made a detailed presentation of Chrysler's financial woes, including its staggering $207.1 million secondquarter loss, and outlined the company's plans for recovery, including details about the small, fuel-efficient cars it plans for 1981.
Both the company and the union agreed that the freeze proposal was unprecedented for any of the top three companies although in the past Sutdebaker and American Motors won concnssions because of financial problems.
The UAW, which represents 124,000 Chrysler workers, had expected a bid for some concessions but apparently did not expect the two-year freeze proposal.
The request went "far beyond anything that the [bargaining] committee could seriously accept," said Fraser in announcing that the union's Chrysler bargaining council will convene Thursday in Chicago to consider the situation.
Fraser contended that the proposal amounted to a wage cut, not a freeze. Figuring inflation at 12 1/2 percent annually over the next two years, Chrysler workers would be taking a 25 percent pay cut, he asserted. Auto workers now receive about $9 an hour in wages and another $6 in benefits.
But Fraser's treatment of Chrysler was mild compared to the wrath he directed at GM Chairman Thomas A. Murphy for opposing government aid to Chrysler.
Murphy "hasn't" got any goddam business" suggesting what the government should do about Chrysler, said Fraser, referring at one point to the GM chairman as "a horse's ass."
With Chrysler ruled out and Ford having served its turn three years ago, GM is generally believed to be the UAW's target this year. The target company is not expected to be chosen until shortly before the industry's current contracts expire September 14.
The UAW yesterday reiterated its proposal for the government to acquire stock in Chrysler, giving it a voice in the company's operations in exchange for cash the company says it needs. The company, in contrast, is seeking no-strings tax credits. While favoring the stock ownership proposal, Fraser said the union could also support a tax credit if that was the only option.
Washington reaction to the tax credit proposal which Chrysler has coupled with a bid for a two-year delay in meeting auto emission standards has been cautious. The Carter administration has indicated it will have a response within a week or two.
Chrysler, the nation's third largest auto company and 10th biggest industrial company, has been suffering a declining share of the auto market, and has been hurt by declining sales of its big vehicles and difficulty in meeting federal regulations.
Its austerity bid to the UAW appeared to be a companion piece to its announcement Thursday that it will not pay a third-quarrer dividend to stockholders. Some congressional leaders said earlier that Chrysler has to make internal reforms before government aid can be considered.
In Iacocca's meeting with the UAW he reportedly said the company's chances of regaining a competitive position in the auto industry are good if it can weather the next 18 to 24 months. CAPTION: Picture, DOUGLAS A. FRASER . . .excoriates GM chairman