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Two Down, Two to go in Chrysler Negotiations?

The Canadian Auto Workers union ratifies a new contract. UAW also reaches tentative deal, subject to member approval.

by on Apr.26, 2009


Bondholders, whose jobs are not at stake, are stopping Chrysler's restructuring.

At the same time as the Canadian Auto Workers union was announcing the overwhelming ratification of a new contract by 87% of its members with Chrysler LLC on Sunday evening, the United Auto Workers union in the U.S. issued a statement saying it, too, had reached a tentative deal with Chrysler that satisfied the U.S. Auto Task Force requirements to make labor costs competitive.

Chrysler has thus reached agreements with both of its unions to modify its contracts to meet the viability tests imposed by North American federal and regional  governments for the continuation of bridge loans to ensure liquidity as the Great Recession marches on.

The UAW deal is pending,  until its membership votes positively on the new four-year contract. Ratification is expected to come by Wednesday. It is also expected that the UAW will become a significant shareholder of 20% or more of the new company in return for giving up at least half of the $10.9 billion in cash payments due to it for the  financing of member health care benefits, due to be administered next year by a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association, which was established in its 2007 contract with Chrysler.

The VEBA allowed Chrysler and its venture capital owners to remove health care liabilities from its weak balance sheet and transfer the risk to the UAW. By accepting virtually worthless Chrysler stock now,  instead of cash, the union is in effect becoming  a bigger proponent of free-market capitalism and risk taking than Chrysler bondholders, who want the government to socialize their risk on failed investments and make them whole.

While the latest developments are encouraging for people with sweat equity in the ailing automaker, as opposed to speculators in paper instruments who espouse free market ideology while in fact benefiting from “socialism for the rich” when their investments flounder and they turn to the government for relief,  Chrysler still needs restructuring agreements with Fiat, for an alliance, and secured debtholders, aka the socialists, for drastic cuts in the amounts it previously borrowed.

The agreements are due before this Thursday, May 1, in order to meet the terms for continued taxpayer assistance imposed by President Obama’s Auto Task Force back in February. The administration has said that lacking agreements in all areas, Chrysler will be  placed into receivership. With the stipulated agreements in place, it is prepared to advance Chrysler another $6 billion in taxpayer financed loans. A previous, similar bridge loan agreement between taxpayers with Chrysler under Lee Iacocca resulted in taxpayers making money.

This risk/reward concept applied to Chrysler, and GM, is apparently beyond the grasp of the U.S. Treasury Department when it deals with Wall Street, as it advances billions upon billions of taxpayer money to banks and hedge funds to cover their losses and assume their liabilities at 100% of value of financial instruments that should be trading at pennies on the dollar. No possible upside for taxpayers exists in these cases.

In a separate but related development, General Motors has scheduled a 9 am EDT press conference tomorrow, where it is expected that further plant closings, brand and dealer eliminations, and employee firings will be outlined. GM is facing a later, June 1, deadline than Chrysler, from the U.S. Treasury Department to complete its restructuring.

Al Iacobelli, Chief Bargainer and Vice President – Employee Relations of Chrysler said: “We are pleased that the men and women of the CAW have voted to ratify this contract. We know that these are unprecedented times within the automotive industry and we have the utmost respect for the Canadian represented employees.”

The UAW said in a statement: that it had agreed to tentative modifications to its 2007 labor agreement that satisfied both the U.S. treasury and Fiat. No details were released.

“We recognize this has been a long ordeal for active and retired auto workers, and a time of great uncertainty,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “The patience, resolve and determination of UAW members in these difficult times is extraordinary, and has made it possible for us to reach the agreement we will present to our membership.”

An agreement between Chrysler and Fiat appears imminent, but is still pending since it awaits concessions from the last key constituency, bondholders.

“The provisional agreement provides the framework needed to ensure manufacturing competitiveness and helps to meet the guidelines set forth by the U. S. Treasury Department. As a result, Chrysler LLC can continue to pursue a partnership with Fiat SpA,” Chrysler said in a statement.

So the holdout will be Chrysler’s secured debt holders, who are still balking at trading almost $7 billion in loans for equity in a reorganized Chrysler, whose future survival is by no means assured. The debtholders have no incentive to settle early, and it is unknown what steps the Obama administration will now take to force closure before its self-imposed imposed deadline later this week.

Chrysler’s key creditors have offered to cut Chrysler’s debt to $3.75 billion from $6.9 billion in return for 40% equity in the re-organized company. The creditors also have dropped a request for $1 billion in preferred stock, as well as the request that Fiat put money into the deal, according to a person familiar with the matter. The bargaining goes on.

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