United Auto Workers President Douglas Fraser warned yesterday that his members would not approve a three-year wage freeze at Chrysler Corp., even if such a decision means they would lose their jobs in a failure of the ailing automobile manufacturer.
As lobbying efforts to provide federal aid to Chrysler moved into high gear on Capitol Hill, Raser said that the Senate Banking Committee bill requiring such a wage freeze is "wrong." He predicted that the Carter administration will denounce the Senate proposal as "absolutely unworkable."
And a Treasury Department spokesman, Everard Munsey, said the Senate proposal "goes too far...it's inflexible and the wage freeze is unnecessarily severe...we intend to try to improve the legislation" as it moves from committee to a possible floor vote as early as next week.
In Ottawa, meanwhile, Chrysler Chairman Le Iacocca won a promise from the Canadian government of substantial financial aid to the third-largest U.S. auto company, which expects to lose about $1 billion this year and run out of money to meet payroll by the end of January.
Economic Development Minister Robert de Cotret said, after a meeting with Iacocca and other Chrysler officers, that Canada may provide "hundreds of millions of dollars" in loans, grants and investments to help the company modernize its facilities in that country.
But de Cotret emphasized that Ottawa will "await decisions in the U.S.," before making any commitments on its own. Chrysler has proposed an overall investment of up to $1.2 billion over the next decade to retool an engine plant at Windsor, Ont., for production of smaller, fuel-efficient cars.
According to Iacocca, Chrysler has been discussing Canadian financial aid in a range of $150 million to $300 million.
The "decisions" in this country that Canada is watching are those facing the House and Senate, as leaders prepare to take up far different bills to channel federal aid to Chrysler.
A House bill, which parallels proposals of the Carter administration, would provide up to $1.5 billion of federal loan guarantees if Chrysler can raise a like amount on its own.
The Senate proposal, attacked by Fraser yesterday, would provide up to $1.25 billion of loan guarantees but only after all parties to Chryler's survival agreed in advance to a $4 billion rescue package that includes a wage freeze.
Rep. James . Blanchard (D-Mich.), a key supporter of the administration proposal, said in an interview yesterday that a head count in the House as of yesterday (looks extremely good...but there is a substantial undecided vote."
Blanchard has been named by Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) to head a 35-member "Chrysler task force," with a goal of meeting with every undecided member of that body in an attempt to resolve uncertainties before a floor vote, which could come late next week.
The Michigan Democrat described the House bill as a "sound and workable package," and criticized the Senate Banking bill as a "Political document that appears to specify sacrifices by others but which only penalizes the union workers." He conceded that the House bill may have to be modified in some way -- closer to the Senate version -- to make it politically "salable."
Senate action on Chrysler now is scheduled to follow the proposed tax on "windfall" oil profits. Possible compromises on the Senate bill, now under active discussion in the administration and on Capitol Hill, include substituting a two-year wage freeze for the three years in the legislation and eliminating the specific commitments by various parties required by the Senate bill in exchange for a flexible approach that would permit a government board to decide the degree of contributions -- an authority given to the Treasury secreary alone in the initial administration plan.
Fraser did not rule out a wage freeze of shorter duration. Asked if his workers would accept a freeze of less than three years; he said only: "Well, that's not before them."