Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 7, 1999
issue of Workers World newspaper


By Martha Grevatt Member, UAW Local 122

[The writer works at the DaimlerChrysler stamping plant in Twinsburg, Ohio.]

Voting Sept. 24 and 25, UAW members who work at DaimlerChrysler ratified a four-year contract. This agreement sets the pattern that the union is also seeking for workers at Ford and General Motors.

For the first time in 20 years, workers will receive a 3- percent wage increase in each year of the new contract. The basic right to across-the-board wage increases had been given up at the time of Chrysler's near-bankruptcy. So for two decades workers have lost tens of thousands of dollars by receiving lump sums instead of percentage raises.

There are other improvements in the new pact--in the Cost of Living Allowance, bereavement pay, health coverage, and other areas. Pension benefits were increased by a sizeable amount. In 2000 and 2002, Election Day will be a paid holiday.

The UAW also won a pledge of "neutrality" toward its drive to organize workers in non-union plants in the South. The union will have access to the workers in these plants. However, the company would not agree to a card-check: recognizing the union automatically if more than half the work force signs union cards.

In a major victory for lesbian, gay and bisexual workers, DaimlerChrysler has finally agreed to add the words "sexual orientation" to the "Equal Application" section. In 1996, and before that in 1993, the UAW asked for this addition but Chrysler refused.

In 1996, Pride At Work and the Committee for Equal Rights at Chrysler launched a national campaign that won changes in corporate policy. Now non-discrimination based on sexual orientation is written into the contract.

If it is also included in the Ford and GM pacts, it will mark a giant step forward in the struggle for equal rights-- the first such industry-wide victory in the United States. The union and DaimlerChrysler management have also agreed to "assess the implications" of domestic-partner benefits.

What about jobs?

In the past two decades, the Big Three auto companies have eliminated hundreds of thousands of UAW jobs. Yet they are not satisfied with the current employment levels. They want to cut more.

Ford wants to spin off its Visteon parts division. GM wants to go to "modular" assembly: Whole sections of a vehicle will be assembled on the outside, while the assembly plants merely put the "modules" together.

DaimlerChrysler, the product of the November merger of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, most likely intends to cut "excess capacity."

The new contract sets limits on how many jobs DaimlerChrysler can eliminate. In the previous contract, workers who retired, quit, died or were discharged were replaced on a one-for-one basis after employment levels dropped below 95 percent of what they were when the contract was signed. The catch was that this only applied when the jobs were lost due to outsourcing.

New technology has eliminated thousands of jobs. In the Twinsburg, Ohio, stamping plant, employment has dropped from 2,600 to 2,200 just since the last contract. New machines, called transfer presses, do the work of several presses, wiping out production jobs.

Even skilled jobs are being cut: Fewer machines require fewer people to repair them.

The new contract begins to address this. Employment levels must be kept at 80 percent of current levels, regardless of the cause of job reduction. The 95 percent formula regarding outsourcing remains intact. The agreement also bars the corporation from closing any plant or spinning off any division.

However, allowing the bosses to cut 20 percent of the work force could still cost 10,000 to 15,000 jobs. If Ford and GM adopt the pattern, that could add up to 100,000 jobs.

The contract does nothing to promote a shorter work week, which could seriously curtail downsizing. The new agreement between the Canadian Auto Workers and Ford makes some progress here, providing all workers an additional week of paid absence. DaimlerChrysler workers in Germany work a 35- hour week. It can be done.

With its shortcomings, the agreement still represents significant concessions by the company to the union. The bosses are making record profits and are eager to maintain class peace. They remember last year's strikes that shut down mighty GM, costing it billions of dollars. Meanwhile, Ford workers are gearing up for a possible strike if Ford insists on selling the Visteon division.

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