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Jeep workers favor new pact

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Signage is displayed outside the headquarters of Chrysler LLC in Auburn Hills, Michigan, U.S., on Saturday, April 25, 2009. Chrysler LLC's banks reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. government to exchange $6.9 billion in secured debt for $2 billion in cash, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News

JEFF KOWALSKY / BLOOMBERG NEWS Enlarge

Toledo Jeep workers seemed to favor a new agreement between Chrysler LLC and the United Auto Workers, after getting their first glance of the details Tuesday.

"I can live with it. It's better than I thought it would be," said John Rinker, who was among hundreds of Toledo Jeep Assembly complex workers who showed up at UAW Local 12 headquarters in Toledo to get information about the tentative pact reached Sunday between the union and company.

The deal, part of Chrysler's overall plan to show that it can survive outside of bankruptcy, gives the UAW a 55 percent ownership stake in the company in exchange for concessions.

All UAW locals in the Chrysler system, including Local 1435 at the Toledo Machining plant in Perrysburg Township, are to vote today on the deal in combined information-ratification meetings. The workers at the suburban factory were to be briefed on the details today.

Toledo Jeep workers have a separate contract with the company from other UAW locals and won't get to vote on the new contract. The terms, however, will apply at Toledo Jeep if the deal is passed.

"Even though we can't vote, it's still important to obtain the support of the membership so we can say we support it and stand with the rest of the union on this," said Dan Henneman, chairman of the Local 12 unit at Toledo Jeep. He briefed his members yesterday.

In northwest Ohio, Chrysler employs about 1,800 making Jeep Wrangler and Liberty and Dodge Nitro sport utility vehicles, and about 1,000 at the suburban Toledo Machining plant making torque converters and steering columns for several vehicles.

At Local 12, Jeep worker Michelle Kunkel said she was worried that the contract would contain reduced base pay.

"Our biggest fear was pay cuts," she said. "But this doesn't affect the pay or the benefits."

Under the contract, base pay, health-care benefits, and pensions are unchanged.

However, a cost-of-living adjustment is frozen; an Easter Monday holiday in 2010 and 2011 is gone; and a $3,000 performance bonus and a $600 Christmas bonus are eliminated this year and next.

"It'll be tougher around Christmastime," Ms. Kunkel said. "But you can plan for that. It's not really that bad. I think it's a good deal."

Carlos DeCuellar, another Jeep worker, said the pact seemed acceptable, though he hadn't examined all the details yet.

"I think it sounds OK - but we don't get a vote," Mr. DeCuellar said. "But if they present this to the other locals the way they have presented this to us, I think it should pass."

Besides maintaining wage and benefit levels, the agreement freezes wages through 2011 for temporary and part-time workers and lifts restrictions on how many workers can be hired at less than $15 an hour. Compensation for laid-off workers will be reduced and break time will shrink from 46 minutes to 40 minutes a shift.

The concessions are similar to those agreed to by Ford Motor Co. workers and by the Canadian Auto Workers.

The 55 percent stake in the company for the UAW, Mr. Henneman said, will relieve Chrysler of a portion of $10 billion it owes to the union's retiree health fund. Passage of the agreement is critical, he said.

"The alternative is no jobs, no benefits, no pension," he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.

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