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Weighing impact of UAW-Chrysler strike settlement

By Ed TownsendLabor correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 13, 1982



Labor contract negotiations took another turn away from concessionary bargaining as the United Automobile Workers and Chrysler Corporation reached a tentative agreement on a 13-month pact with an immediate wage increase.

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Canadian workers, on strike since Nov. 5, voted over the weekend on the agreement, which would give them a larger immediate increase to offset a higher inflation rate in Canada. The UAW predicted ratification and a return to work in Canada Dec. 13.

''I believe this agreement will be ratified by a comfortable margin in Canada and in the United States next Friday,'' said Douglas A. Fraser, president of the UAW.

While the settlement, ratified by the union's Chrysler Council by an almost unanimously, goes beyond earlier Ford and General Motors contracts that included no immediate wage increases, it is considered modest compared with those of the past. It is unlikely to lead to pressures for higher wage settlements in the big contract talks ahead in 1983.

The agreement gives US workers an average wage increase of 75 cents an hour, 15 cents of it as a cost-of-living adjustment.

In Canada, workers will get an increase of $1.15 an hour if the pact is ratified - the equivalent of about 87 cents an hour in US currency. Canadian locals representing 9,600 striking workers had demanded more. Their negotiators called the additional gain ''a small step'' toward parity with US unionists.

The Chrysler settlement dropped an earlier company proposal to tie wage increases to profits, a provision in the September agreement rejected by the UAW's rank and file and a part of the 1981 union pact with the company designed to help Chrysler avoid insolvency.

The agreement also tightened rules covering chronic absenteeism, making more than six absences without a valid excuse over six months a cause for suspension or dismissal.

The Chrysler agreement will be compared with those at Ford and GM, but the different circumstances must be considered. When Chrysler was threatened with bankruptcy two years ago, the UAW gave substantial concessions to help rescue the No. 3 automaker. Workers gave up wage and other increases due in 1981 and this year.

As a result, when bargaining began this year, Chrysler workers were receiving about $2.07 an hour less than GM and Ford workers doing comparable work. The tentative contract just reached will run to Jan. 14, 1984, while GM and Ford agreements extend to Sept. 14, 1984. UAW spokesmen in Detroit said this will give Chrysler workers another chance to narrow the present pay differential before the major auto companies negotiate .

The new contract's potential impact on Chrysler remains a big question. Its cost is estimated between $75 million and $100 million. But should Chrysler's fortunes continue to improve, as many economists expect them to, the company would become liable under a profit-sharing clause for as much as $85 million as the workers' share of profits that could reach $400 million.

Chrysler had held out against an immediate pay increase. US union members turned down a September settlement, but voted to stay on the job until January when bargaining would be reopened.

Canadian workers refused to do so. Their strike forced US layoffs and caused the UAW to return to bargaining. The company negotiated under pressure due to rapidly mounting losses, the UAW with growing concern about further layoffs and a possible eventual shutdown of all Chrysler operations.

Mr. Fraser and other negotiators said they were unhappy because it took a strike to win a ''fair'' settlement.