Worker Controversy over Ford Contract Could Mean a Strike

Ford's Chicago assembly plant

The UAW has endorsed a proposed contract with Ford, but some of its members are balking.

They are particularly upset that the contract freezes wages for senior workers, the ones who gave back the most in the crisis. And they are very angry about the exorbitant bonuses given to Ford’s top management back in April.

So the new pact has created much controversy, which you can follow at the UAW Ford Department’s Facebook page.

The voting reflects this. Workers at a Chicago assembly plant (above) voted 77 percent to reject the contract; other plants have voted in favor. As of 11:30 Friday morning, the ayes have 50.8 percent, the nays 49.2, per the union’s Facebook page. But the 6,000 workers at the Rouge (Detroit) plant haven’t voted yet, and their tally won’t be known until the weekend.

Ford's Rouge truck plant

Ford's Rouge truck plant

Now we have a situation where, if the contract is voted down, there will be calls for a strike, since Ford was not party to the no-strike provision that GM and Chrysler had to sign.

And, by the way, the union’s recent agreements with Chrysler and GM were, by all accounts, less generous in some ways than the one signed by Ford. That agreement includes some $16 billion to produce “new and upgraded vehicles and components by 2015,” said the union.

But issues remain over how that bread is to be spread. Many voters are divided, but there is tremendous resentment over the $26.5 million bonuses (each) and stock options for Chairman Bill Ford and CEO Alan Mulally.

At a time when the Wall Street protests are all over the news, this issue could indeed topple the ratification process. Ford management is not helping matters with talk of restoring dividends and potential sales increases of 50 percent.

As an old protester, I would love to see the union go out on strike, which would generate a lot of sympathy in some quarters. But I think the odds are in favor of renewed contract talks—if the rank and file turns this one down. And a strike, as always, would hurt the members more than the company, which, despite its debt, is sitting on piles of cash.

Although there has been strike talk from some union officials, neither side has much to gain by it. Frequently, it’s the early voters who make the strongest protests, and another round of talks may well result in fewer jobs and benefits.

How would you feel about a strike at Ford?


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  1. You’ve got to remember that the union management wants to keep the maxiumum number of dues paying workers on the job. When they’re on a picket line, the cash vacuum cleaner goes into reverse and spits out cash in the form of strike pay, with nothing coming in.

    In a way, the workers are stuck between some union management desire for status quo and employer desire to cut costs, but I think you’ll see some push pack on the part of workers. After all, as a democratic organization (unlike their employers) the union officials, from committee people all the way up to the big cheese, are all elected and can be unelected. Ditto on strikes. The workers decider, and management has to go along. But the UAW needs to tread lightly where Ford is concerned. Ford still has a lot of overhead that GM and Chrysler were able to ditch in the bankruptcy, and pumping it for cash might backfire.

  2. @ panayoti
    Sr. P, thank you for this. Especially your point about the givebacks and establishing a new baseline—that is, the one at $14/hr. Some of the union people have said that in times like these, they should feel grateful to have a job at all. That is what we are all coming to, isn’t it?

  3. It is very difficult to get back givebacks. Once a traditional base line has been destroyed, it makes it very difficult to reestablish a new one. See NFL and NBA lockouts. Management at all levels of business see clearly that bonuses for them are sure to come when the broad based economies of global enterprise are in the tank. It makes everyone aware of costs, productivity and restructuring. So short term solutions become paramount and it is always labor that suffers. These short term “solutions” always lead to disruptions of the work force and submits them to the perils of unemployment and reliance on government sponsored programs to allay some of the pain caused by the disruption. Such is the case here in the auto industry.

    Although Ford didn’t participate in government bailouts, they have managed to come through this recession in pretty good shape. As one of 3 graybeards here I, too, sympathize with the workers but as you mentioned earlier these kind of strike threats don’t really do anything but result in more give backs and more unemployment. So much like the OWS movement going on across the country this past month, a lot is said, but precious little has been done. I fully expect that to happen here as well. The $28/hr baseline is gone forever and the new $14/hr baseline is here to stay for a long time.

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