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Chrysler workers wary of new contract

With new contracts hammered out at GM and Chrysler, the United Auto Workers union is now focusing on Ford, considered the weakest of the Big Three in this round of talks. Negotiations are expected to accelerate soon. With new contracts hammered out at GM and Chrysler, the United Auto Workers union is now focusing on Ford, considered the weakest of the Big Three in this round of talks. Negotiations are expected to accelerate soon. (Paul Sancya/associated press)

DETROIT - As they assembled cars yesterday, workers at Chrysler's Sterling Heights assembly plant were talking about their new labor contract, wondering whether Wednesday's six-hour strike was enough to get a good deal from the company. Even as they waited to hear the details, industry analysts were predicting cross-town rival Ford will try to get more concessions than Chrysler.

Some workers were skeptical about job security promises, one worker said.

"A lot of people are sort of surprised that we only stayed out that long," said Brett Ward, a forklift operator at the plant and a member of a group that's often critical of the union. "They're thinking that it might have really not gotten us that much."

United Auto Workers leaders have yet to brief the rank-and-file on the tentative deal, which abbreviated the strike when it was reached late Wednesday afternoon.

The Chrysler pact mirrors the contract with General Motors Corp. UAW members ratified Wednesday. Deutsche Bank analyst Rod Lache said in a note to investors that the UAW contract agreement can significantly improve the competitiveness of US automakers.

Ford Motor Co. will go last in the negotiations. Spokeswoman Marcey Evans said Ford and the union weren't in talks yesterday, but their negotiations are expected to accelerate soon.

Under Chrysler's tentative agreement, the company would pay $10 billion to $11 billion into a union-run trust that would pick up Chrysler's $19 billion in future retiree healthcare expenses, according to two people who had been briefed on the agreement. Other major provisions include job security pledges and a two-tier wage scale, with new hires making around half the current starting wage of an assembly line worker.

Another person familiar with the pact said the job security provisions weren't as extensive as those granted by GM, which promised to build next-generation products at 16 assembly plants and parts at other facilities. The Chrysler guarantees extend no further than the life of current products or the length of the four-year contract, said the person, who did not want to be identified because the details haven't been formally released.

Ford is generally considered the weakest of the Big Three in this round of contract talks. It lost $12.6 billion in 2006 and has mortgaged its factories to secure $23.4 billion to cover losses and fund its restructuring plan.

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