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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2007

Strike ends at Chrysler after 6 hours

FROM BLADE STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Six hours after a nationwide strike began at Chrysler LLC factories, a tentative agreement was reached by bargainers and employees returned to work last night and this morning.

Details of the new contract, subject to ratification by United Auto Workers members, were not officially disclosed.

But one person with knowledge of the agreement said it includes some guarantees that vehicles will be produced at U.S. factories, a company-funded, union-run trust that will pay much of Chrysler's $18 billion in long-term retiree health-care costs, and a lower wage scale for some newly hired workers.

The person, who requested anonymity because the contract has not been ratified by union members, said the level of funding for the trust was acceptable, but the new vehicle guarantees are not as extensive as those given by General Motors Corp. in its agreement two weeks ago.

The shortness of the strike meant it had no big impact on the company's production.

Covered by the tentative agreement are 45,000 Chrysler workers. The union said the four-year agreement has similar terms to the contract reached with GM.

Lee Bainter, president of UAW Local 1435 at a suburban Toledo parts plant, said he was unaware of the agreement's details but praised the union leaders.

"This was a very brief walkout," he said. "We didn't know what the duration would be."

At the Twinsburg, Ohio, stamping plant, Ron Vance, financial secretary-treasurer of UAW Local 122, said, "I certainly wasn't expecting it to end this quickly. But whatever happened, we were here for the long haul."

The strike, the first at Chrysler since 1997, began at 11 a.m. It ended about 5 p.m.

Jeff Schofield left his job yesterday morning at Toledo Machining Plant in Perrysburg Township to carry a "UAW on strike" sign outside.

"There comes a time when you have to draw the line in the sand. That is exactly what we did," said Mr. Schofield, a 13-year employee at the factory. The factory has 1,430 hourly workers on three shifts making steering columns and torque converters.

After the GM agreement was reached, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. both said they would need more concessions. Chrysler wanted the same health-care concessions that the union granted to GM and Ford in 2005. Unclear was how much Chrysler would pay into the health-care fund, which would take on its roughly $18 billion in retiree health-care debt.

A 39-year employee, Rick Lauer of Sylvania, said getting a good deal that addresses health care and provides commitments from Chrysler for job security were top priorities.

"It will be beneficial for the union and Chrysler to come to a mutual agreement to end the strike," he said.

The UAW struck all but five of its plants nationwide, holding off at some sites because they had been idled this week because of lagging sales of their vehicles.

The strike did not affect the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex because it has a separate union agreement from the national accord. Its members, though, receive the financial terms negotiated nationally.

About 3,400 Toledo Jeep workers are on layoff this week, as the factory that makes Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro was shut down to readjust to make more of the redesigned Liberty and fewer of the slow-selling Nitro.

Next door, a group of factories and more than 1,000 Chrysler and supplier workers making the hot-selling Jeep Wrangler stayed on the job, and would have been endangered only if the strike shut off parts by tomorrow.

Chrysler has 24 U.S. manufacturing facilities, including 10 assembly plants.

Workers didn't strike the Warren Truck assembly plants in Warren, Mich.; Newark, Del., assembly; Jefferson North assembly in Detroit; Belvidere assembly in Belvidere, Ill.; and the Conner Avenue assembly plant in Detroit.

A short strike likely had little effect on the automaker, which had a 71-day supply of cars and trucks on dealer lots at the end of August, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.

Chrysler was a wild card in this year's negotiations because it was bought by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP shortly after the talks began.

DaimlerChrysler AG, which is now called Daimler AG, sold a controlling stake in the 82-year-old Chrysler to Cerberus in August.

The firm has since hired Bob Nardelli, formerly head of The Home Depot Inc., to be Chrysler's chairman and chief executive. Chrysler Vice Chairman and President Tom LaSorda, who led Chrysler before Mr. Nardelli was hired, represented the company in the talks.

Many industry analysts said Cerberus would fix the money-losing Chrysler quickly, return it to profitability, and sell it for a huge profit, perhaps to a foreign auto company that wants a stronger U.S. presence.

Next, the agreement will be presented to local union leaders, and then to the membership for a vote. The UAW also will seek similar terms from Ford, whose contract expired Sept. 14 but has been extended pending the other bargaining.

Blade business writer Mark Reiter contributed to this report.



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