Ford union workers protest contract changes

October 23, 2009

Ford union workers protest contract changes

The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co.’s River Rouge complex has become a hotly contested battlefield as the United Auto Workers and union dissidents square off over proposed contract changes.

Late Wednesday, UAW Vice President Bob King, who heads the union’s national Ford section was confronted by members chanting "No! No!" as he tried to address a group of about 600 workers at the factory to clear up what union leaders characterized as "misunderstandings" about a tentative agreement reached between Ford and the UAW last week. That deal still needs to be ratified by rank-and-file members, and voting was due to begin at the factory complex Thursday.

"People are very upset, and they let King know it," said Gary Walkowicz, a member of the bargaining committee at the Dearborn Truck Plant and a leader of dissidents at the Rouge. "We are urging everyone to vote down these concessions."

King stayed to talk to members individually and is expected to return today.

Jerry Sullivan, president of UAW Local 600 that represents workers at Dearborn Truck and the other factories in the Rouge complex, acknowledged that opposition to the new agreement is stronger than anticipated.

"It’s become a tougher fight because there’s a lot of misinformation out there," Sullivan said. "People really don’t understand the agreement."

Many workers at the Rouge and other Ford facilities are upset over what they perceive as an agreement by the union to give up its right to strike.

It is true that Ford had hoped to negotiate a broad "no strike" agreement similar to ones reached with General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC earlier this year. But the Dearborn automaker fell short of that goal. The tentative agreement only limits the union’s right to strike in disputes over pay and benefit increases. If Ford tried to cut workers’ pay or benefits, they would still be allowed to strike.

And while the agreement matches limits on entry-level wages and benefits that GM and Chrysler won from the union, it does not allow for cuts to retiree benefits that were part of those deals.

Ford would not comment on the union dispute, nor would national union leaders.

Walkowicz vowed to keep up the fight, but Sullivan predicted the majority of his members will support the deal once they understand the details. He will hold an informational meeting for workers today, and voting at the Rouge and other facilities will continue until next Friday.

© Copyright 2009 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

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