DETROIT - The UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have reached a proposed tentative agreement that adds nearly 8,000 jobs over the life of the deal. The agreement potentially starts the last lap of months of union and automaker contract wrangling.
The announcement of an agreement came Saturday morning following meetings at FCA's Conner Center in Detroit, formerly the production plant for the Dodge Viper.
The proposal now goes to the UAW FCA National Council, where local union leaders are scheduled to meet Wednesday to decide whether to recommend it to the membership. If they do, the proposal would then face a ratification vote by the approximately 47,200 FCA workers represented by the UAW.
Details of the deal were not released, other than the union saying, "In addition to the $4.5 billion in major investments previously announced, negotiators secured an additional $4.5 billion for a total of $9 billion of investments adding 7,900 jobs during the contract period." Sources said Friday that workers were in line for $9,000 ratification bonuses.
The previous contract expired Sept. 14, but FCA workers represented by the UAW have been working under a contract extension since then.
"Our UAW Bargaining Committee worked diligently, over many months, during the General Motors strike and Ford negotiations to maintain productive negotiations with FCA," UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, director of the UAW-FCA Department, said in a prepared statement released at 10:54 a.m. in Detroit. "The pattern bargaining strategy has been a very effective approach for the UAW and its members to negotiate economic gains around salary, benefits and job security."
UAW acting President Rory Gamble said, "FCA has been a great American success story thanks to the hard work of our members. We have achieved substantial gains and job security provisions for the fastest-growing auto company in the United States. During the previous four-year agreement, FCA added over 6,400 new UAW members."
FCA hourly and salaried members are expected to begin their vote on whether to ratify on Dec. 6, a process that usually takes about two weeks.
The proposal comes two weeks after workers at Ford ratified their agreement. The path at Ford had been considerably easier - three days of focused bargaining before a deal was reached - than the experience at General Motors, where workers remained on strike for 40 days before ratification.
The pattern established at GM, which went first in bargaining, set the stage for Ford, and presumably FCA. The Ford and GM contracts saw improvements for temporary and in-progression workers, wage increases - two 3% annual raises and two 4% lump sum payments - and no change in health care costs. Permanent GM workers also got $11,000 ratification bonuses, although that was tempered by the cost of the strike. Permanent Ford workers qualified for $9,000 bonuses.
Jodi Tinson, FCA spokeswoman, confirmed that a proposed tentative agreement had been reached and said in a prepared statement that further details will be provided at a later date.
Although several union members have told the Detroit Free Press they expect workers to ultimately approve an agreement, that is not guaranteed.
History and more recent events could complicate any vote.
FCA workers rejected the initial contract proposal during 2015 talks, forcing union and company negotiators back to the table.
In addition, the ongoing corruption probe has led to significant trust issues for the rank and file. In just the last week, both Gary Jones as UAW president and Vance Pearson as UAW Region 5 director have resigned. And GM threw gasoline on the allegation fire by suing FCA, claiming the company and its iconic late CEO Sergio Marchionne had engaged in a decadelong effort to corrupt labor talks.
FCA called the suit meritless, saying GM was trying to divert attention from its own challenges.
Gamble has announced a slate of ethics reforms in an effort to calm the waters.
Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University who specializes in labor issues, said the tentative agreement "represents a significant step forward for the UAW and its membership in troubling times."
"Taking a step back to reflect more broadly on this event, it shows the institutional strength available to the UAW even when its leadership is trying to climb out of the throes of a major scandal," he said. "This is testament to the importance of having a strong institution behind the workers which is resilient enough to survive problematic leaders.
"The next step for the UAW, after ratification, is to reexamine its governance structure to see what reforms are necessary to become a more transparent and democratic union. Reform is essential to ensure that the UAW has place at the table as the industry goes through more profound economic and technological changes."
The proposed merger of FCA with Peugeot-maker PSA Groupe has also been a wild card, and was expected to lead to more of a focus on job security in the talks even as FCA is pushing forward with a massive expansion for SUV production on the east side of Detroit.
That expansion was part of $4.5 billion in investments FCA announced in February for southeast Michigan. FCA has actually announced more investments than it pledged in 2015 - $8 billion compared with $5.2 billion.
Details about plant investments will be interesting to watch in the proposed FCA agreement. According to previous Free Press reporting, GM promised $7.7 billion in U.S. manufacturing investment and the creation or retention of 9,000 jobs, and Ford committed to $6 billion and the creation or retention of 8,500 jobs.
GM, of course, generated considerable focus on its own investments even before bargaining started, by announcing last year its plans to unallocate plants in Lordstown, Ohio; Warren and the Baltimore area. Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, one of the plants initially on that list, was granted a $3 billion investment for electric vehicle production.