CEO Sergio Marchionne's close victory in a vote for new labor rules at Fiat's Mirafiori plant is a small step for the automaker, but a giant leap for labor relations in Italy.
The victory shows that Fiat employees are willing to change their working practices in order to battle global competitors for future manufacturing contracts. This is a positive step for the company – Italy's largest – and the country.
Marchionne was not sure workers at the plant, which is right next door to the company's Turin headquarters, would approve a new contract that limits strikes and absenteeism in exchange for investment in Italy. When the CEO left work Friday night, two press releases were waiting: one celebrating victory, the other commenting on the defeat, he told Italian daily la Repubblica in an interview published this morning.
While 54 percent of all the plant's employees voted yes, the margin of victory among blue-collar workers was just nine votes. Regardless of how razor thin the vote was, Marchionne has his labor deal active in two plants, Fiat's Pomigliano factory backed a similar deal in 2010, and he aims to have the job deal extended to the Melfi and Cassino factories soon.
With the victory, Marchionne has shut up some of his doubters at home – maybe forever. At his other job, as CEO of Chrysler, Marchionne already has an agreement with the United Auto Workers and the Canadian Auto Workers that improves the U.S. automakers' competitiveness.