WARREN, Mich. - Chrysler workers at four key Detroit-area United Auto Workers locals all voted in favor of a new contract with the company by wide margins yesterday, boosting chances the landmark deal would be approved.
The approvals represent much-needed wins for the UAW, but overall ratification of the bitterly contested deal could be headed for a dramatic climax tomorrow when workers at an Illinois assembly plant are scheduled to cast ballots.
The four plants that voted yesterday represent nearly 9,000 workers combined.
The fate of the contract remains unclear because the exact number of workers who have voted for the agreement is not known. Ratification requires a simple majority vote among all those who cast ballots.
Workers at Local 1700 approved the contract by just over 65 percent, President Bill Parker said, despite Mr. Parker's vocal opposition. He didn't say how many workers had voted. Local 1700 represents 2,500 workers who make the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger cars.
Workers at Local 869, which represents just under 1,500 employees at the Warren stamping plant, voted 75 percent in favor and 25 percent against, said Da Juan Tolbert, the local's recording secretary. A total of 930 workers voted in favor and 312 against, with only about 200 members not voting, she said.
Earlier yesterday, 82 percent of production workers at Local 1264 in Sterling Heights approved the tentative agreement, local President Bob Stuglin said. He wouldn't say how many workers voted, but he said turnout was the largest the local ever had for a contract vote. The local represents about 2,000 people at Chrysler's Sterling Heights stamping plant.
Also in Warren, Local 140 President Melvin Thompson said 78 percent of those voting approved the deal and 22 percent opposed it. He said 1,961 of his 2,600 members voted on the agreement. Local 140 represents workers at Chrysler's Warren Truck Assembly plant.
Mr. Thompson called the vote "an overwhelming success."
"This means hard-working people are intelligent people," he said after the vote. "When they take the time to read the contract, they understand it's a good deal."
After a week of voting at Chrysler plants and facilities across the country, the final vote on a four-year deal for about 45,000 UAW-represented workers seems too close to call. The last major vote is scheduled for tomorrow by 3,400 workers at Chrysler's assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill.
No tentative UAW contract has been rejected since Chrysler workers voted down a national agreement in 1982.
One worker at the Sterling Heights Assembly plant, which builds the Chrysler Sebring sedan, summed up the deep divisions in the rank and file over hot-button issues such as job security and a two-tier wages.
"It's soul-searching time," Michael Williams, a forklift driver, said.
"I know a lot of people were talking bad stuff about the contract earlier in the week, but now I'm seeing that both sides are coming out."
The four union locals voting yesterday represent nearly 9,000 workers - or approximately 19 percent of the 45,000 workers who would be covered by the four-year agreement.
The national contract includes 1,500 workers at Chrysler's Toledo Machining factory in Perrysburg, who voted to ratify the tentative agreement.
Not part of the national agreement are about 4,000 UAW workers at the Toledo Jeep Assembly complex, who have a separate union contract.
Those workers will receive any pay and benefit increases if the national accord is approved.
The Detroit-area locals were voting a day after two locals in Kokomo, Ind., overwhelmingly rejected the deal, reached Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike.
Voting until Tuesday had been close, according to a running tally kept by the union, with "yes" votes slightly ahead.
But on Tuesday, 72 percent of about 3,000 voters at Kokomo's Local 685 and 78 percent of 737 members in Local 1166 voted against the contract.
Eight local unions representing more than 16,000 workers have now turned down the landmark pact, while nine locals representing about 15,200 workers have approved it.
It's nearly impossible to keep a running total because most local union officials give out only percentages and not the number of people who voted.
Also, officials of some smaller locals could not be reached or would not give out results.
Mr. Stuglin said the UAW's chief Chrysler negotiator, General Holiefield, and other union leaders visited his plant Tuesday to try to sell the deal.
Autoworker Angela Parker said she was persuaded to vote for the deal after Mr. Holiefield paid a similar visit to Local 140.
Ms. Parker, 40, said she decided to vote in favor after learning that workers hired at a lower wage would have the opportunity to move into higher-paying jobs.