Chrysler owner calls for focus on reality in UAW labor talks

By David Shepardson

(Reuters) -Chrysler parent Stellantis sharply criticized the demands of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union on Friday, saying they need “a focus on reality from everyone involved.”

Stellantis North America Chief Operating Officer Mark Stewart said in a letter to employees seen by Reuters the automaker is “committed to working with the UAW to reach an agreement based on economic realism.”

A UAW spokesman declined immediate comment on Stewart’s letter, but earlier this week UAW President Shawn Fain called the Stellantis proposals “trash” and tossed a copy of them in a waste basket in live streamed remarks.

Stewart added that agreeing to Fain’s “demands could endanger our ability to make decisions in the future that provide job security for our employees. This is a losing proposition for all of us.”

The current four-year contracts with Stellantis, General Motors and Ford Motor expire Sept. 14.

The UAW has said it is seeking “audacious and ambitious” improvements, including pay raises of more than 40% over four years, significant additional time off, and a restoration of defined-benefit pensions previously eliminated for newer workers.

Fain Tuesday criticized numerous concessions Stellantis is seeking.

“Stellantis proposals are a slap in the face,” Fain said disclosing the company was proposing cuts to healthcare coverage, fewer vacation days for new hires and lifting a cap on temporary employees.

Stewart said Fain did not fairly represent the negotiations.

“The theatrics and personal insults will not help us reach an agreement,” Stewart wrote, adding “now is the time to come to the table with open minds and a commonsense approach.” He added “at this very early stage, no one should jump to any conclusions about the outcome of the process.”

Stellantis has made proposals aimed at reducing absenteeism and cutting pension, healt-care and other costs, saying that amid government electric vehicle rules, it was imperative to “find ways to reduce the overall fixed cost structure of our business”.

The UAW also said the company opposes an end to two-tier wages, a practice of newer hires getting paid much less than veteran workers.

Two people briefed on the matter told Reuters this week automakers have estimated the UAW’s contract demands could raise the current mid-$60-per-hour labor rate to more than $150 per hour.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter and Alexander Smith)