November 30, 2020

United Automobile Workers Agrees to Extend Contract Talks with General Motors and Chrysler

The extensions came shortly after the chief executive of Chrysler, Sergio Marchionne, sent a letter to the U.A.W.’s president, Bob King, late Wednesday lamenting that the talks had broken down because Mr.

King did not show up at the bargaining table as expected.

Talks continued past midnight at G.M. until that company and the

U.A.W. agreed to extend their contract as well, a G.M. spokeswoman said. Negotiations with G.M. are scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Mr. Marchionne sent the letter to Mr. King after the union leader spent the day huddled in contract talks with General Motors rather than Chrysler. A copy of the letter was obtained from sources close to the negotiations,

“I flew back from the Frankfurt Motor Show late last night to be here today to finalize our dialogue that has been started by our teams but that required your presence and mine to conclude,” Mr. Marchionne wrote. “You unfortunately could not be here, I am told, due to competing engagements.”

Mr. Marchionne went on to say that he and Mr. King “failed” employees by not concluding the months-long negotiations before the current contract expired.

“I am willing to extend the contract by an additional week to allow closure on all outstanding matters,” Mr. Marchionne wrote.

Workers for both companies had been anxiously awaiting word of a settlement, and even U.A.W. officials at several plants said they were being kept in the dark about the pace and nature of the discussions.

“We are confident that we can reach an agreement that will meet many of the goals we set at the beginning of negotiations,” Joe Ashton, a U.A.W. vice president in charge of negotiations with G.M., wrote in a message to workers that was posted online Wednesday.

Any agreements must be approved by U.A.W.’s local leaders and then ratified by the rank-and-file membership.

Labor experts expect the companies to offer workers signing bonuses of at least $5,000 to improve the chances of ratification without permanently increasing labor costs.

Workers at all three companies received a $3,000 signing bonus in 2007. Their wages have not increased since 2003.

Talks with the Ford Motor Company are not as far along as the negotiations with G.M. and Chrysler.

On Tuesday, Ford and the union agreed to extend their contract indefinitely, at least temporarily putting off the possibility that a strike could be called. The union can end the extension with three days’ notice, and it might do so when a deal is close to pressure the company to settle.

Talks with all three companies lacked much of the acrimony that has defined past rounds of bargaining in the auto industry. Union leaders have vowed to help keep the carmakers competitive while also seeking ways for workers to be rewarded as the auto industry turns around.

Workers at G.M. and Chrysler are barred from striking over wage and benefit disputes through 2015, a provision they were required to approve when the companies received federal loans as they went through bankruptcy protection in 2009. Their only recourse in the case of an impasse is binding arbitration, a somewhat unpredictable process that both sides have said they want to avoid.

A major theme for the union during these talks has been regaining much of what workers gave up to keep their employers from collapsing under the weight of heavy debt and plummeting sales. But the union also wants to add jobs in the United States after suffering years of wrenching cutbacks at the three carmakers.

Mr. King, the U.A.W. president, has said U.A.W. members each ceded $7,000 to $30,000 worth of pay and benefits since 2005. In 2007, the union agreed to create a two-tier wage system that allowed the carmakers to cut costs by hiring new workers at about half the pay of other workers.

Many in the U.A.W. oppose the two-tier system, but Mr. King has said it is a way for the companies to become more competitive without cutting pay for existing workers and helps create jobs. Only about 4,000 of the 112,000 workers at G.M., Ford and Chrysler earn second-tier wages currently, but the companies hope to hire more people at the lower pay scale as older workers retire, further reducing their labor costs.

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Syrian Leader Hit With European Sanctions

Separately, European Union foreign ministers also expanded sanctions against Iran by placing restrictions on more than 100 companies or entities linked to the country’s nuclear program. Several more Iranian officials were added to the visa ban and asset freeze list, though names were not released Monday.

Earlier in May the European Union announced a weapons embargo against Syria and visa bans and asset freezes on 13 senior Syrian officials, but left Mr. Assad’s name off the list. At the time, Cyprus led calls within the European Union to keep lines of communication open to the leadership in Syria.

However, European ministers said that the new steps were made inevitable by the continued violence in Syria, where as many as 900 people have been killed in more than two months of protests, activists say.

The unrest has presented the most serious challenge yet to Mr. Assad, who came to power in 2000, inheriting the presidency from his father, Hafez al-Assad, who governed for three decades.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that the message to the Syrian government was “to stop the violence and respect human rights.” Ms. Ashton added that 10 other Syrian names had been added to the sanctions list, though they have not yet been identified publicly.

But she did not call directly on Mr. Assad to resign. “It is for the people to decide the future and the government,” she argued.

Though the practical impact on Mr. Assad might be limited, the step is an important, symbolic one, increasing the Syrian president’s international isolation.

Syria has deeper ties with Europe than with the United States, as a place of investment and travel, and some officials had viewed European countries as friendlier than the United States.

Still, an official from the governing Baath Party in Syria, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the European sanctions, saying that they would have no effect.

“Syrian officials have no bank accounts or properties in Europe,” the official said in Damascus. “If they prevent us from going to Europe, the Europeans themselves will come to us and beg for our help in Iraq, Lebanon and the peace process.”

The Syrian authorities, meanwhile, canceled a demonstration scheduled for Monday that they had previously approved, the first since the leadership moved last month to end the draconian emergency law, which had been in effect for 48 years.

Regarding Iran, the expansion of sanctions is the latest step to try to increase pressure on the government, which is suspected of trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of its declared civilian nuclear energy program. The government in Tehran asserts that it is developing nuclear power to meet growing domestic demand for energy.

The European Union ministers also added 13 more officials from Belarus to their sanctions list in protest of the crackdown on opposition parties there, which included the recent jailing of Andrei Sannikov, an important opposition figure.

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