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Chrysler UAW Contract Wins Crucial Backing

Three Chrysler plants in the Detroit area on Wednesday voted to approve a proposed four-year contract for workers represented by the United Auto Workers union, boosting the chance that the contested labor pact will be ratified this week.

More than 9,000 Chrysler workers at four major Detroit-area plants voted on Wednesday on the proposed contract, which had run into unexpectedly fierce opposition from union dissidents.

Union leaders and others backing ratification have argued that the contract represents the best deal workers can hope to secure at a time when U.S. automakers are trying to rebound from a combined loss of over $15 billion last year.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has said he wanted to wrap up a contract with Chrysler before beginning talks with Ford Motor Co.(F.N), which is seeking its own deep concessions.

Based on the reported plant-by-plant voting results, the contract appeared closer to ratification by late Wednesday after a tough-fought contest that had been in danger of slipping away from UAW leadership a day earlier.

UAW locals representing over a third of Chrysler's work force bucked the union's leadership and voted to reject the contract.

Threat to Scuttle Contract

That dissent had threatened to scuttle the proposed contract, which was reached between the UAW and Chrysler earlier this month after a strike that lasted just six hours.

But UAW leaders stepped up a campaign to win backing for the deal this week after appearing to have been caught off guard by the strength of the grass-roots campaign to scuttle the contract.

The result was a sweep of the three Detroit-area plants reporting results. An assembly plant and a stamping plant in Warren, Michigan and a stamping plant in nearby Sterling Heights all voted to ratify the contract by a wide margin, union officials said.

Some 3,000 workers at the Warren plant making Dodge Ram pickup trucks voted to approve the contract by a 78 percent margin. At the nearby stamping plant, which represents about 1,400 workers, the margin for ratification was also 78 percent.

At the Sterling Heights stamping plant representing about 2,000 workers the margin in favor was 86 percent.

As of Wednesday night, more than 30 union locals representing over three-quarters of Chrysler's roughly 45,000 UAW-represented workers had reported results.

Intense Lobbying

A precise vote tally was not provided by the UAW and was impossible to estimate based on the incomplete voting data provided by union locals.

Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly, which represents about 2,700 workers, had also yet to report results.

That plant had been the site of some of the most intense lobbying by UAW leaders in the run-up to Wednesday's vote after the local president Bill Parker emerged as one of the central figures in the campaign to vote down the proposed contract.

UAW Vice-President General Holiefield told Sterling Heights union representatives that the plant had received assurances from Chrysler it would remain in operation until 2016 -- five years past the expiration of the pending contract, according to a person who attended that briefing.

Privately-held Chrysler, unlike its larger rival General Motors, had declined to give the union such written pledges of future investment.

Parker, who chaired the Chrysler negotiating team, had said in an open letter to union members that the lack of job security left workers vulnerable to "economic terrorism."

His Sterling Heights local represents 2,700 workers who make the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger sedans.

The last time UAW workers voted to reject a national contract was in 1982.

Many Chrysler workers have objected to an historic concession that would allow Chrysler to bring in new workers outside the assembly line at just $14 per hour -- roughly half what the average UAW worker currently makes.

Chrysler's Belvidere assembly plant will vote on Friday, winding up the ratification process at the No. 3 U.S. automaker's major facilities.

Cerberus took Chrysler private in a $7.4 billion deal that closed in August. Former parent Daimler maintains a nearly 20 percent stake.

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