Chrysler Corp. reached a tentative agreement yesterday with the striking United Auto Workers of Canada, clearing the way for a possible settlement this week with the American UAW, whose 70,000 workers have been on strike since Wednesday at 45 Chrysler plants in 15 states.
The tentative settlement announced in Toronto, which affects 10,000 workers at six factories in Ontario, could bring a close to one of the most complicated auto negotiations in recent years. Chrysler is the first auto maker forced to negotiate separate contracts with the U.S. and Canadian UAWs, which split this year in a bitter dispute over bargaining strategies.
Robert White, leader of the Canadian union, said the tentative pact, to be considered at ratification-vote meetings today, "meets all of our expectations of full and complete parity with Ford Canada and General Motors of Canada in terms of wages, pensions and benefits."
Chrysler workers had fallen behind because of concessions given during the auto maker's 1979-82 brush with bankruptcy.
In addition, the tentative 23-month pact would give a lump-sum payment of $1,000 (about $730 in U.S. currency) to all Chrysler workers and retirees represented by the union, White said.
Chrysler Canada Vice President William J. Fisher said Chrysler workers had made sacrifices to save the company from bankruptcy and "it's nice to be able to pay them something now that's substantial."
White said he expected approval of the pact, with Chrysler workers back on the job in Canada possibly as early as this afternoon.
The U.S. negotiations are scheduled to resume today in Detroit, and UAW officials who met Saturday in Alabama to discuss bargaining strategy are optimistic that they can reach a quick settlement.
The strike is costing Chrysler an estimated $50 million a week and has begun to result in layoffs at the 8,000 supply firms that provide components for Chrysler cars and trucks.
The key dispute in both the U.S. and Canadian negotiations arose from the union's demand that because Chrysler had rebounded from its scrape with bankruptcy, the now-profitable No. 3 auto maker could afford to match the GM-Ford agreements, which include profit-sharing and modified job-security guarantees.
Chrysler has balked at some union demands, arguing that despite record profits of more than $3.5 billion over 18 months, the company remains extremely vulnerable to Japanese imports and must continue reducing its labor costs.
The U.S.-Canadian split within the UAW created internal political problems for Owen F. Bieber, president of the million-member U.S. union. According to industry sources, Bieber has been reluctant to settle quickly because he might be shown up by White, who has a reputation for toughness and militance and who, it was thought, might win a better settlement for his workers in Canada.
American UAW officials deny that Bieber has delayed settlement, saying he is driving a hard bargain in Detroit because Chrysler workers are adamant in their demands for "reparations" from the company to compensate for the $1.1 billion in concessions they made during Chrysler's government-funded bailout in 1980-82.
"Our members are angry, and that has been a main concern on Owen's mind -- not the Canadians," a UAW official said.