Workers chilly to Ford contract, UAW members may oppose it
October 19, 2009
Workers chilly to Ford contract
UAW members may oppose it
BY BRENT SNAVELY
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Even with a tentative agreement that is filled with product and job promises — including a $1,000 per-worker bonus — a deal reached between Ford Motor Co. and the UAW faces widespread opposition, according to union workers and leaders.
The agreement was recommended for approval by the UAW’s top leadership last week, but must be ratified by union members to become official.
Ford, in an effort to obtain the contract changes, has promised the UAW that it will continue to create more than 2,000 jobs across Ford’s U.S. plants, add a new product to the lineups at several metro Detroit plants and provide the $1,000 onetime bonus.
"If they follow through … that would be great," said a top leader of one of the UAW’s local units, who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisal. "But I’m not sure how much people believe them."
Even the $1,000 bonus is getting a cold reception.
UAW leaders face tough sell job
Because of the product promises from Ford Motor Co. in a tentative pact with the UAW, union President Ron Gettelfinger said the deal "isn’t a concessionary agreement."
But Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant, said the concessions — especially a requirement for binding arbitration for some wage and benefit issues — undermine one of the primary weapons at a union’s disposal.
"We just won’t have a union anymore if we do this," said Walkowicz, who has a history of fighting against concessions.
Ford, in return for its promises to the UAW, is seeking a wage freeze for entry-level workers, a reduction of skilled-trades classification and the no-strike clause.
Even those in favor of the agreement acknowledge that it is getting a cold reception.
Voting on the agreement by Ford hourly workers likely is to begin as early as this week and run most of the rest of October.
"The biggest question is … why did they have to come back to us again? As they are reading the highlights and getting their answers, I guess they are coming around," said Rocky Comito, president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville, Ky.
Ford’s 41,000 UAW members are reluctant to approve additional changes to their labor contract because they already approved an agreement in March that cut benefits and provided Ford with $500 million in annual savings.
Ford executives argue that agreements reached between General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC last spring went farther than Ford’s agreement, putting Ford, the only domestic automaker that didn’t accept taxpayer funding this year, at a long-term competitive disadvantage.
And even though Ford has gained market share this year and posted a profit of $834 million for the first half of the year, the company is expected to report a loss of about 21 cents per share when it announces third-quarter earnings later this month.
Ford also faces a disadvantage because GM and Chrysler were able to shed debt during their bankruptcy cases while Ford faces $35 billion in financial obligations it must pay by 2013.
Ford’s promises to the UAW include creating more than 2,000 jobs across its U.S. plants, adding a new product to those built at several metro Detroit plants and providing a $1,000 onetime bonus to UAW-represented workers, according to the agreement.
A top leader of one UAW local unit, who asked to remain anonymous for fear for fear of reprisal, said he’d rather see Ford invest that $1,000 per employee on plant improvements.
But Comito said he hopes that Ford’s arguments and the job and product promises are carefully considered by UAW members as they vote.
"That word ‘competitiveness’ is such a key word," Comito said. "This does not hurt the members today … and it does bring productivity promises and jobs."