DETROIT, Oct. 10 — The United Automobile Workers union reached a tentative contract agreement this afternoon with Chrysler, about six hours after workers walked off the job at Chrysler plants nationwide when the two sides failed to reach a deal by a union-set deadline.
The agreement was announced by the union’s president, Ron Gettelfinger, in a statement. The union told workers to report for their jobs on their next shift, which for most will be Thursday morning.
Chrysler has about 45,000 workers in the United States. About 12,000 workers were exempt from the strike because their plants are temporarily closed by Chrysler.
Details of the agreement were not immediately available, but it was expected to follow the pattern set down in a new contract at General Motors, which was reached on Sept. 26 after a two-day union strike. Chrysler officials said the agreement contained a memorandum of understanding to create a health care trust, similar to one at G.M., which would assume Chrysler’s $18 billion liability for medical benefits for current and retired workers and their families.
“The national agreement is consistent with the economic pattern, and balances the needs of our employees and company by providing a framework to improve our long-term manufacturing competitiveness,” Chrysler’s co-president, Thomas W. LaSorda, said in a company statement.
For his part, Mr. Gettelfinger said, “This agreement was made possible because U.A.W. workers made it clear to Chrysler that we needed an agreement that rewards the contributions they have made to the success of this company.”
The union said today, meanwhile, that G.M. workers had approved their contract agreement. Among production workers, the tally was 66 percent in favor, while 64 percent of the skilled trades workers voted for the contract.
The G.M. contract created a voluntary employee benefit association, or VEBA, to take over G.M.’s $55 billion liability for health care benefit. G.M. agreed to invest $29.9 billion to launch the trust. If Chrysler invests an equivalent amount, that would total about $10 billion.
Workers at Chrysler began leaving plants shortly before 11 a.m. Eastern time, a deadline set by the union over the weekend when talks moved slowly.
The union had told workers to begin walking off the job unless they were instructed otherwise. The strike did not include five plants that already had been temporarily shut down. Those plants are in Newark, Del.; Belvidere, Ill.; Warren, Mich., and two plants in Detroit.
They receive most of their pay and benefits from the company when they are temporarily laid off. Otherwise, workers would have received strike pay of $200 a week, about one-fourth their normal take-home pay.
Since the strike was so short, workers are unlikely to receive anything from the union’s fund, which stands well above $800 million, and could have financed a walkout at Chrysler for months.
The union was silent after the walkout began. By contrast, car horns blared in support of the striking workers, who lifted their signs as motorists passed.
Talks continued at Chrysler’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., despite the strike, until the tentative deal was announced.
One of the biggest demonstrations took place outside the headquarters, where hundreds of workers marched in a circle lifting their picket signs. The demonstration caused a highway exit leading to the headquarters to be closed.
There had not been a major strike at Chrysler since 1985, when 80,000 workers in the United States and Canada walked off the job for a total of 12 days.
But Chrysler, bought by a private equity firm two months ago, apparently balked at the union’s demand that it agree to contract terms similar to those reached with G.M., a concept known as pattern bargaining.
In particular, Chrysler was reluctant to make a commitment to the number of new products would be built in American plants, and to guarantee how many jobs would remain at the company, which is in the midst of a restructuring program.
Chrysler officials were said to be seeking flexibility to import vehicles from outside the United States, so they can take advantage of cheaper labor costs. Chrysler is set to begin selling Chinese built small cars at the end of the decade, making it the first American company to use China as an export source for the United States.
The walkout was a test of Chrysler’s new owners, Cerberus Capital Management, which bought Chrysler on Aug. 3 from its former German parent, DaimlerChrysler. Cerberus paid $7.4 billion for 80.1 percent of Chrysler.
The brief strike was not expected to have much immediate impact on supplies of cars at dealer lots. Chrysler has at least three months’ worth of most vehicles in stock and has shut half of its United States assembly plants this week to let those inventories thin out.
A longer strike could actually have helped dealers clear out oversupplies of vehicles from their lots. Chrysler, which had stockpiled as many as 100,000 cars last year for which it had no dealer orders, has begun to see its inventories climb again as its sales slow.
“Chrysler’s got plenty of inventory,” said John A. Casesa, an automotive analyst who is managing partner of Casesa Strategic Advisers in New York. “Any work stoppage short of a couple of weeks will have no lasting effect on the company.”
Indeed, since Chrysler no longer reports quarterly results, the impact of a strike would be known primarily to Cerberus, which is taking a long-term view as it fixes the money-losing automaker.
For workers walking picket lines, Mr. Casesa said, “every hour seems like an eternity.”
Yet workers said they understood things had changed in discussions between the U.A.W. and the auto companies.
“This is a whole different ballgame now,” Greg Boudreau, 54, an electrician at Chrysler’s Sterling Stamping plant north of Detroit, said Tuesday. “We’re not dealing with DaimlerChrysler anymore. This is an investment bank. If they’re fair-minded, we’ll certainly find out in the next couple of days.”
Mr. Casesa, the analyst, said: “The G.M. agreement was a genuine breakthrough because it sent a clear signal that the union and the industry are willing to compromise — that this would not be a battle to the death.”
As workers awaited a new contract, they learned Tuesday that Chrysler planned to cut as many as 1,500 salaried and contract positions. The cuts, first reported by The Detroit Free Press, would be in addition to 2,000 salaried positions being eliminated as part of Chrysler’s revamping plan, announced in February before the sale to Cerberus.
A person with direct knowledge of the plans confirmed the figures but spoke on condition of anonymity because they had not been formally announced.
As many as 5 percent, or 415, of the company’s 8,300 salaried jobs would be cut, as would up to 37 percent, or 1,110, of the 3,000 contractors that Chrysler uses.