Chrysler CEO warns of tough talks with CAW

DETROIT Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:51pm EDT

1 of 2. Chrysler Group LLC Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne answers questions from the media during an announcement that Chrysler Group will move some of its employees into the historic Dime Building and renaming it Chrysler House in downtown Detroit, Michigan April 30, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) - Negotiations between Chrysler Group LLC and the Canadian Auto Workers union this summer may be difficult, said Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, pointing to a short-lived strike at an auto-parts supplier that caused Chrysler's minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, to close for a few hours.

Marchionne told reporters on Monday morning in Detroit, that he had "zero empathy" for the striking CAW workers, at a Dakkota Integrated Systems plant near the Windsor assembly plant.

"This is not the way to get things done," Marchionne said, adding "if this is an indication" of the relationship between the CAW and Chrysler, "then we're in for a very difficult round of negotiations."

A few hours later, the half-day strike was over after the 190 Dakkota workers from CAW Local 444 in Windsor voted 3-to-1 in favor of a new pact, and the minivan assembly plant reopened. On Sunday, the same workers had rejected the same contract, which called for a 9 percent increase over three years from the current $17.50 per hour wage.

Local 444 represents Chrysler workers at the Windsor plant as well as workers of four supplier plants that feed it, said Local 444 President Rick Laporte.

Ken Lewenza, president of the CAW, said he was surprised by the aggressive tone taken by Marchionne.

"I'm disappointed in his aggressive tone," said Lewenza, who said CAW leaders worked overnight and into Monday and by the time Marchionne spoke were well on their way to getting Dakkota and their workers to mend fences.

Lewenza said he believes that Marchionne and he have mutual respect for one another, and that it was too early to say how the CEO's comments on Monday or the quick strike may affect talks that heat up at the end of August.

The current CAW contract with Chrysler, Ford Motor Co (F.N) and General Motors Co (GM.N) workers expires in September.

"Who knows, he might be drawing a line in the sand," said Lewenza of Marchionne. "You might remember in the UAW negotiations he became very aggressive with Bob King at one point and they ended up coming to agreement.

"This might be his style," said Lewenza. "I don't know his negotiation style with the unions. But I know his style in the crisis, and that was nothing but constructive."

Lewenza referred to a Marchionne letter last September to United Auto Workers President Bob King saying the two had failed workers and U.S. taxpayers after King missed a planned meeting with Marchionne. King was nailing down final details at talks with GM at the time, he said, and couldn't leave.

Within a month, Chrysler and the UAW, which represents U.S. workers, had reached a deal. GM and Ford also reached four-year contracts with the UAW last fall.

The Chrysler plant makes the Dodge Caravan minivan, the Chrysler Town & Country minivan and the RAM Cargo Van.

Chrysler is majority-owned and managed by Italy's Fiat SpA (FIA.MI).

Laporte of CAW Local 444 said Dakkota workers were less concerned about pay issues than about work schedules at the plant. The company agreed to work to make hours more consistent from one shift to the next and that helped sway workers who on Monday walked a picket line, he said.

The Dakkota plant in Lakeshore, Ontario is a half-hour drive from the Chrysler Windsor plant. Both operate around-the-clock on three shifts.

Dakkota is a joint venture of Rush Group LLC and Intier Automotive Interiors. Intier is wholly-owned by Canada's Magna International Inc (MG.TO).

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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