UAW Threatens Strike at Chrysler's GEMA Plant

Workers voted to strike if necessary to get an acceptable new union contract.

With negotiations at General Motors complete and talks at Ford on hold, the United Auto Workers union is moving on Chrysler with an old weapon in its pocket -- a strike threat.

UAW members have authorized a strike against a key engine plant, setting the stage for a possible end run around the no-strike clause embedded in the 2009 agreement with the federal government that salvaged Chrysler Group from bankruptcy, union officials confirmed Monday.

"This doesn't mean there is going to be a strike," Robert Cabina, president of UAW Local 723 in Monroe, Mich., told AFP.

Only the UAW executive board can authorize a walkout. But workers at the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance in Dundee, Mich., voted to strike if necessary to get an acceptable new contract.

Negotiation on the agreement for the 350 employees at the Dundee plants -- which was originally built as joint venture between Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi -- are not scheduled to start until next month, Cabina said.

Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson confirmed the plant is not covered by the main collective-bargaining agreement and the no-strike clause.

Tinson decline to comment on Chrysler's negotiations with the UAW.

Talks at Chrysler have moved slowly, and the union has indicated it will not finalize a deal with Ford until after the Chrysler and GM negotiations are finished. The union granted Ford an indefinite extension last week.

Even if the strike authorization approved by Local 723's members is never used, it allows the UAW to threaten Chrysler with a classic "bottleneck" strike.

At issue is Chrysler's push for major cuts in health care benefits in the principal Chrysler contract, which has been the subject of intense discussion since the July.

The union also could use the strike threat to block any move to turn a dispute over to an outside arbitrator.

The GEMA plant builds Chrysler's most technically advanced engine, which is used in a number of the company's latest vehicles, including the Fiat 500, Jeep Wrangler and Chrysler 200.

It is based on technology supplied by Fiat under the 2009 agreement with the federal government that gave the Italian carmaker control of Chrysler.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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