David Coates / The Detroit News / AP Photo

UAW threatens strike at Fiat Chrysler

UAW members are planning to strike Fiat Chrysler – the first work stoppage since 2007

United Auto Workers (UAW) members are planning to strike at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) U.S. plants as soon as 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, the first work stoppage since 2007, threatening to bring manufacturing to a halt.

A strike at its U.S. operations could cost the automaker $40 million a week in operating profit, said Sean McAlinden, chief economist with the Center for Automotive Research.

Workers at several plants in Kokomo, Indiana, and at least one in Michigan received notices to be ready to strike but it was not clear whether all Fiat Chrysler plants would be involved.

“FCA US confirms that it has received strike notification from the UAW,” the company said in a statement Tuesday, reported the Detroit Free Press. “The company continues to work with the UAW in a constructive manner to reach a new agreement,” the statement continues, suggesting talks continued at some level.

Kristin Dziczek, labor analyst with the Center for Automotive Research, said the last time the UAW took the company, then known as Chrysler, out on strike it was in 2007. That strike, in the second week of October, lasted six hours.

The strike weapon was not available to the UAW until this year for Fiat Chrysler or General Motors as part of the 2009 government-sponsored bankruptcies at those companies. The union's four-year contracts with all three automakers expired on Sept. 14, but workers have remained on the job under a contract extension.

Union members overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement with the company last week, with members calling for an end to a two-tier pay structure, more specific guarantees of new vehicles for U.S. factories and a return of cost-of-living pay raises that the union gave up to help the company in bad times.

Sixty-five percent of FCA's union workers voted against the four-year deal. UAW President Dennis Williams said after the rejection that he would return to the bargaining table with Fiat Chrysler in an effort to get a deal that would be ratified. The union represents about 40,000 workers mainly at 23 FCA factories in the Midwest.

Arthur Schwartz, a labor consultant and former negotiator with GM, said, “This is the union's play now. It is up to them what happens.”

Schwartz said UAW President Dennis Williams would not want a lengthy strike because of the pain it could inflict on his members and Fiat Chrysler.

“Chrysler is not in great financial shape, no matter what the UAW members may think,” he said. “The company is the weakest of the (Detroit Three) so a long strike would hurt them.”

Al Jazeera with wire services

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