New round of union action as summer begins
A number of labor union moves are under way this summer in the auto, meatpacking, and communications industries. Among the highlights:
* Chrysler workers want an early reopening of contract talks with the resurgent No. 3 automaker. They say they hope to regain some of the wages surrendered in concession bargaining between Chrysler and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) two years ago, when the company faced possible bankruptcy. Chrysler hourly pay is now about $2 less than that of General Motors and Ford, which average $9 an hour. The call for renewed talks follows the company's recent announcement that it would repay $400 million in federal loans up to seven years ahead of schedule.
* The UAW is also negotiating with Ford on possible wage givebacks of $4 to $ 4.50 an hour. The move would help keep the automaker's unprofitable River Rouge steel mill in Detroit open and save 4,000 jobs. The union represents workers at the mill, and a shutdown could affect labor relations throughout the vast River Rouge complex.
* Striking meatpacking workers have voted reluctantly to approve a new contract with the Wilson Foods Corporation, the nation's largest pork processor, although it means a substantial wage cut.
Settlement of the strike, which began June 4, reflects a recognition of the serious problems in the industry. The contract approval sent 5,000 union workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers back to jobs in seven closed plants mostly in the Midwest. Wilson filed for reorganization under bankruptcy law in the spring and cut wages from $10.69 an hour to $6.50 an hour.
* Meanwhile, the largest labor talks in 1983 are getting under way in the telephone industry, involving the more than 500,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and other unions. The principle issue: ground rules for future bargaining in the now-splintered Bell System. But the unions' call for higher wages and broader benefits are expected to make negotiations even more difficult.