updated 10/25/2007 3:33:32 PM ET 2007-10-25T19:33:32

The United Auto Workers union is so close to approving a four-year contract with Chrysler LLC that some opponents said Thursday there’s only a remote chance it could still be voted down.

About 45,000 UAW workers at Chrysler are covered by the contract, which has been called historic by industry analysts who believe it will make the company more competitive with Japanese automakers.

The tentative agreement must be ratified by a majority of voting members to go into effect.

The only local yet to vote on the pact represents small-car assembly and stamping plants in Belvidere, Ill., with a total of about 3,300 members. Local 1268 will vote on Friday and Saturday, but only a huge turnout and an overwhelming “no” vote would be enough to sink the contract, according to dissidents.

Shawn Fain, a local bargaining committee member at a Kokomo, Ind., casting plant who has opposed the deal, said he didn’t know the full vote totals, but an overwhelming “yes” vote in suburban Detroit on Wednesday probably was enough to ratify the deal.

“After what happened yesterday, I think that pretty much put it to a finish,” Fain said Thursday.

As recently as Tuesday the pact was losing after large locals in Kokomo voted it down, but workers at assembly and stamping plants in Sterling Heights and Warren had a strong turnout and voted largely in favor. The Sterling Heights and Warren votes pushed the favorable vote ahead, according to a person who was briefed on a running ballot count.

The person, who did not want to be identified because the voting has not ended, said more than 55 percent of the 25,000 UAW members who voted were in favor of the pact after Wednesday night.

Based on that running tally, for the contract to be sunk in Belvidere, the person said it would take something like 3,000 “no” votes with zero “yes” votes out of the total 3,300 members.

Belvidere’s local president, Tom Littlejohn, has spoken against the deal, which was reached Oct. 10 after a six-hour strike. He has not returned repeated phone messages left this week by The Associated Press.

On Wednesday, the four locals in Sterling Heights and Warren representing more than 8,600 workers voted to approve the deal.

Workers at Local 1700 approved the contract by just over 65 percent, President Bill Parker said, despite Parker’s opposition. Parker didn’t say how many workers had voted. Local 1700 represents 2,500 workers who make the Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger mid-sized cars at the Sterling Heights assembly plant.

Margins of victory were higher at the other three Detroit-area locals. Workers at Local 869, which represents just under 1,500 employees at the Warren stamping plant, voted 75 percent in favor. Seventy-eight percent approved the tentative agreement at Local 140, which represents 2,600 workers at the Warren Truck Assembly plant. And 82 percent of production workers at Local 1264 approved the agreement. The local represents 2,000 workers at a Sterling Heights metal stamping plant.

The votes were good news for UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who has faced challenges from some members opposed to the deal.

Chief among those challengers was Parker, a local president who also served as chairman of the union’s national negotiating committee in the Chrysler talks.

Parker opposed the contract because it lowers wages for many new hires to around $14 per hour. Chrysler assembly workers now make about $28.75 per hour, according to the company. Parker also said the contract makes fewer guarantees for new products than General Motors Corp. promised workers in its contract.

But Melvin Thompson, who heads Local 140, said the contract is a creative one that helps retirees by establishing a health care trust fund and protects current workers’ wages. Thompson said Parker’s position on the new vehicle guarantees doesn’t make sense because no promises are truly guaranteed beyond the life of the four-year contract. He also said a two-tier wage scale creates opportunities for workers to work their way into the top tier, while at the same time making Chrysler competitive.

The UAW spent a great deal of time and effort at the Sterling Heights and Warren factories lobbying for passage, including several personal appearances by chief Chrysler negotiator General Holiefield.

Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues, said many of the early “no” votes appeared to be sending a message of dissatisfaction with the state of the domestic auto industry.

The later votes showed that the UAW’s argument that the contract was the best they could get under difficult circumstances was taking hold, and that workers were considering what the other options might be, Shaiken said.

“The later votes had the character of workers looking over the cliff and pulling back,” he said.

UAW workers haven’t rejected a national contract since Chrysler employees did in 1982.

While the UAW concentrates on Chrysler, talks have been proceeding slowly at Ford Motor Co., the last automaker to negotiate with the UAW in this year’s round of contract negotiations. General Motors Corp. workers already have ratified their contract.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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