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A Show Of Unity As Chrysler and UAW Begin Auto Talks

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jeffgilbert Jeff Gilbert
Automotive reporter for WWJ Newsradio 950 and CBS Radio News....
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AUDIO: Negotiators for Chrysler and the UAW meet the media at the start of 2011 contract talks.

AUBURN HILLS (WWJ) – It was an unusual show of unity as negotiators for Chrysler and the UAW all wore the same maroon shirts—bearing company and union logos—to start this year’s contract talks.

“The negotiations are different, because we collectively think we have a huge responsibility to the American public to thank them for their support,” said UAW President Bob King.

The rescue of Chrysler and General Motors means a lot of differences in this year’s talks, not the least of which is binding arbitration at those two companies.

Both sides, however, saw arbitration as a failure.

“It’s our job to get an agreement,” said King. “We don’t want some third party, outside, who doesn’t know the industry as well as we know the industry making decisions that will impact our long term viability.”

The talks will focus on problem solving, King said, and making sure workers are rewarded, and Chrysler remains competitive.

Vice President of Labor Relations Al Iacobelli said they need to make sure Chrysler doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

“We have this responsibility to assure that we don’t go back to the old formulas,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have a rich history in this industry of not getting it right.”

Scott Gaberding, who heads Chrysler’s manufacturing team, said they understand the American taxpayer gave the company a second chance. He says they won’t squander it.

“We do want to demonstrate that we can build a successful company and the faith of certainly our government, our taxpayers, is well placed in supporting us,” he said.

The union will open talks with General Motors and Ford later this week. King says they will break with the tradition of choosing a “lead company” and will try to work out deals with all three companies at the same time.

While the UAW will seek an economic pattern to make sure workers are rewarded for their sacrifices, King said they will tailor each deal to the needs of each individual company.

“We will not treat Chrysler unfairly, or General Motors unfairly or Ford unfairly,” he said.

We get a status report on the health of Chrysler and Ford, when both companies release second quarter earnings reports tomorrow. GM earnings come out next week.

Talks are starting later than normal this year. UAW Vice President General Holyfield says that reflects their confidence that they can get an agreement by the mid-September deadline.

“Failure is not an option,” said Holyfield, who will lead the union’s negotiations with Chrysler. The UAW VP said that he feel both sides can use lessons learned during the difficult times to make things better in the future.

“We are committed to continuing our relationships, and fostering a better tomorrow for everyone.”

Connect with Jeff Gilbert:
Email: jdgilbert@cbs.com
Twitter: @jefferygilbert
Facebook: facebook.com/carchronicles

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