UAW Open To Chrysler Talks with Rivals

DETROIT (Reuters) – The United Auto Workers is open to moves by Chrysler LLC to seek an alliance with a rival automaker provided that it preserves as many jobs as possible, a senior union official said on Sunday.

General Holiefield, a UAW vice president who oversees the union’s relations with Chrysler, also said UAW workers were prepared to make further sacrifices in a bid to save the struggling U.S. automakers from bankruptcy.

“They’re all willing to do the right thing. Whatever it takes to secure their future, certainly they’re ready to be cooperative to get the job done,” Holiefield told Reuters after a service at a Detroit church dedicated to prayers for the auto industry.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who testified last week at Congressional hearings on aid for the automakers, is open to an alliance for Chrysler, the smallest of the three U.S. automakers, provided that such a move can protect jobs, Holiefield said.

“What President Gettelfinger is looking for, if anything at all, is an alliance with someone that is compatible with Chrysler to preserve the jobs,” he said.

General Motors Corp (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler had moved toward a merger in October before a deeper downturn in sales ran down GM’s cash and prompted the automaker’s board to drop the talks in favor of seeking emergency funding from the government.

GM had sought $10 billion in assistance to support a merger with Chrysler, now owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

Several Republican senators said last week that they favored a GM merger with Chrysler, and both companies said they remained open to the proposal.

That appeared to reopen the prospect of a merger between GM, the No. 1 U.S. automaker, and Chrysler that would cut tens of thousands of jobs and up to $10 billion in annual operating costs from the combined companies.

Cerberus has also sought other alliance partners for Chrysler, widely considered the weakest of the Detroit automakers because of its lack of international sales and a product line-up that tilts heavily toward trucks and minivans.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who is drafting the auto bailout legislation taking shape in Congress, said on Sunday that Chrysler was “basically gone.”

Holiefield’s remarks appeared to mark a softening of UAW opposition to a merger for Chrysler.

Gettelfinger told a House panel last week that the job losses in the event of a GM acquisition of Chrysler would be unbelievable.

GM, Ford Motor Co. (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler together employ fewer than 150,000 UAW-represented workers, down from about 300,000 in 2003.

Holiefield, who spoke to the congregation of several thousand at Detroit’s Greater Grace Temple, said he believed Congress was moving toward extending emergency funding to Chrysler, GM and Ford.

“Provided it happens, we would all be the better for it,” he said.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Leslie Adler)