United Auto Workers will wait for strike option to force better Chrysler contract

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The United Automobile Workers has decided it will have a better chance of negotiating a fat contract with the Chrysler Corporation in October than now. The union's Chrysler council, made up of local union officials, notified the automaker on Jan. 4 that it was withdrawing a request for an early renegotiation of a contract covering 60,500 workers.

The union's reversal of its December decision to seek early bargaining underscored a basic factor in labor contract strategy: negotiating without a strike deadline puts unions at a disadvantage.

Under terms of the current contract, the union cannot threaten a walkout to put pressure on an employer to reach a quick contract settlement until the Chrysler-UAW contract runs out on Oct. 15.

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``Our people felt you could not go to the bargaining table without a deadline and negotiate a maximum settlement,'' says Marc Stepp, the union's vice-president for bargaining with Chrysler.

Rather than negotiate early and perhaps have to settle for less, the union will put off talks until August or September. Mr. Stepp said the union ``will have much more muscle then.''

The Chrysler council asked in December for termination of the present contract, as well as for an agreement that would include a strike deadline.

Also requested was a quick start for bargaining on a substantial wage increase, working conditions, and job security.

The union intends to seek greater job security, in part, through limitations on purchases of auto parts from abroad.

The UAW also wants profit-sharing restored and a two-year contract timed to run out at the same time as those with GM and Ford.

Chrysler initially rejected early bargaining, but Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler, later indicated a willingness to discuss pay and other issues.

Mr. Iacocca's decision, however, provided that the union would also negotiate on matters that would be raised by the company. He also agreed to the early negotiations on the stipulation that no strike deadline would be set on such contract talks.

The company increased hourly wages a year ago, but Chrysler workers still are paid about $1.25 an hour less than those employed by General Motors and Ford.

The difference in wages is a result of concessions made by the UAW during the company's severe financial crisis that occurred between 1978 and 1981. Chrysler workers now average about $11.80 an hour.

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