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Ford presses for UAW modifications

August 20, 2009

Ford presses for UAW modifications

Midday update

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. is pushing the UAW for additional modifications to its labor contract, but one item that few are expecting is additional job cuts.

The Dearborn automaker has aggressively cut hourly and salaried jobs over the past four years, but the pace has slowed dramatically this year and there are no longer any major job reduction programs in the works.

Ford reduced its total North American work force by 4.9 percent over the first six months of this year. That’s far less than in 2008, when Ford reduced its North American work force by 16 percent or in 2007, when Ford reduced its North American work force by 27 percent.

Only 1,000 hourly workers accepted the buyout offer that expired in June — largely because many workers say they believe in Ford’s future and there are few other jobs available as a result of the recession.

Since the end of 2006, Ford’s total hourly work force declined by 44 percent, or from 90,000 to 50,300. But only 2,500 of those reductions occurred over the first half of this year.

The lower numbers are partly due to Ford’s success.

Ford, which has gained U.S. market share, posted a profit of $2.3 billion in the second quarter, albeit mostly because of onetime accounting gains. The automaker is now in the black, earning $834 million through the first half.

While job cuts have slowed, Joe Hinrichs, group vice president of global manufacturing and labor affairs, said the company is committed to continuing to improve its efficiency, and he credited the union with making many adjustments to make Ford more competitive.

"We’ve had a remarkable record over the last several years of working with the UAW to improve the competitiveness of our business," Hinrichs said.

But now, Ford is seeking more changes.

In March, Ford was the first of the Detroit Three to reach an agreement with the UAW to modify its three-year labor agreement.

But since then, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC reached UAW agreements that went further than Ford’s agreement to make those automakers, which went through bankruptcy earlier this year, more competitive.

Hinrichs declined to say what Ford is hoping to gain, but UAW sources aren’t expecting major changes unless Ford offers its own enticing modifications.

Jeff Terry, a member of the UAW’s Ford National Negotiating Committee, said there is substantial resistance to any additional modifications.

"At this time the membership is not favorable to any further modifications, nor is the leadership," said Terry, also president of UAW Local 228.

That’s especially true as Ford continues to build momentum in the market.

Ford’s factories are planning to build more cars and trucks in the second half of this year. That’s partly because of demand stimulated by the government’s cash for clunkers program but also because Ford says it believes the economy will see a rebound.

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