Union employees of Chrysler LLC have approved the four-year contract negotiated October 10 between the privately owned automaker and the United Autoworkers. Bargaining had been underway for three months, and the agreement had been preceded by a six-hour strike at selected Chrysler plants. Workers approved the contract by a 56% majority — a narrower margin than a comparable contract achieved among union workers at General Motors Corp. Reportedly, nine UAW bargaining units, including some at large Chrysler plants in Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri, voted to reject the contract. It's also reported that just 51% of the skilled-trade workers approved the contract. The UAW represents about 45,000 Chrysler workers, and among the provisions of the contract is one that allows Chrysler to hire new workers off the assembly line at $14/hour, or about half of the wage now earned by UAW employees. "Our members had to face some tough choices, and we had a solid, democratic debate about this contract," UAW president Ron Gettelfinger stated. "Now we're going to come together as a union — and now it's on the company to move ahead, increase their market share, and continue to build great cars and trucks here in the United States." As with the contract achieved between the UAW and General Motors, the Chrysler contract will establish a trust fund to manage Chrysler's estimated $19-billion obligation to nearly 80,000 retirees and surviving spouses. "We are pleased that our UAW employees recognize that the new agreement meets the needs of the company and its employees by providing a framework to improve our long-term manufacturing competitiveness," stated Chrysler vice chairman and president Tom LaSorda. The UAW is expected to begin negotiations with Ford Motor Co. this week, hoping to complete the cycle of contracts with the Big Three automakers. Ford reportedly has made it clear it will seek greater concessions from the union than GM or Chrysler achieved. Ford has already cut loose about 27,000 UAW workers in the past year, but may be seeking to trim a further 10,000 positions.