Iacocca says Chrysler is ready to 'have some talks' with UAW
The United Automobile Workers union has received good year-end news from the Chrysler Corporation. The company, which expects to have all of its laid off workers back on the job in early 1985, has agreed to ''have some talks'' with the union about a news contract with pay increases.
Lee Iacocca, president of Chrysler, says he has told the union that if it would ''address a few issues we have, now might be the time to do it. You might get a little money and we might get a few things we want.''
The Chrysler contract runs to Oct. 15, 1985, but Mr. Iacocca said there is ''nothing sacred about waiting.'' He reaffirmed that Chrysler would not go along with a UAW request to cancel the existing contract so that there could be a strike deadline that would put additional pressure on negotiatons.
Mr. Iacocca announced earlier that the company expects to increase production next year at a new Sterling Heights, Mich., plant. It will add a second shift then, and ''bring back the last of our laid-off hourly workers.''
Chrysler had 49,800 auto workers on indefinite furloughs in January 1981. Since then, the company's rags-to-riches marketing and financial successes under Iacocca have made him a respected and heroic figure for most Chrysler workers. They and the union hailed the announcement that the last 8,700 laid-off unionists could expect to return to jobs early next year. If they do, Chrysler will become the first of the Big Three auto companies to recall all employees who had been furloughed.
Citing Chrysler profits, Marc Stepp, a UAW vice-president in charge of bargaining with the company, earlier this week had officially asked the company to terminate its UAW contract and negotiate - with a strike deadline - a new one that would be more in line with the agreements the union negotiated this year with General Motors and Ford.
When the termination request was made formally this week, Thomas W. Miner, Chrysler vice-president for labor relations, said that the company would not terminate the contract or waive a no-strike clause in the present agreement. At the same time, he said Chrysler is ''willing to talk about what amendments the UAW wants to make'' in a limited reopening of the contract.
The UAW's answer to Chrysler will be drafted at a meeting of 150 local offices early next year.
Chrysler, near bankruptcy in 1979, sought and got contract concessions from the UAW. These have been credited with helping revitalize the company. The union now says Chrysler can afford to give workers ''immediate'' wage increases that would bring them back up to the base rates at GM and Ford. Currently, workers paid an hourly rate at Chrysler earn $1.12 an hour less than their counterparts at GM and Ford.
Chrysler's 1984 earnings are expected to top $2 billion; the UAW says the company can afford to ''do the fair thing, pay people the same amount for the same kind of work wherever they are employed.'' Chrysler is reported willing to give raises. But it says that the company would lose its competitive position with GM and Ford if it accepted the equal-pay-for-equal-work demand. Wage parity would mean higher labor costs.