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Sterling Heights Ford UAW local may ask for revote

October 30, 2009

Sterling Heights Ford UAW local may ask for revote

Workers fear ‘no’ vote will lose axle work for site

The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. could shift work promised to its Sterling Heights axle factory as part of a tentative agreement with the United Auto Workers to a German supplier after the local union voted overwhelmingly against the deal, according to a union source.

Now, some workers there are organizing a petition urging UAW President Ron Gettelfinger to call for a revote.

Spurred on by union dissidents who say the time for concessions is over, rank-and-file members at plants across the country have cast their ballots against the proposed contract changes, which were negotiated by Ford and UAW leaders earlier this month. While the union has not released any numbers, people familiar with the situation said about 3,000 more workers have so far voted against ratification than have voted in favor of it.

Under the terms of the agreement, Sterling Axle was supposed to get new rear-wheel drive work that would have added about 100 jobs. Now, union sources fear that work will be given to Getrag Corp., a German supplier with a nonunion factory in North Carolina. Local union leaders also were told Ford is considering outsourcing other components made at the plant, where 80 percent of workers voted against ratification.

The company says any change in its plans for Sterling will not come until after voting is completed at all locals.

"We haven’t made any decision," said Ford spokesman Mark Truby. "We’re not going to comment on future product sourcing during the ratification process."

With voting scheduled to continue through Sunday at the remaining UAW locals, momentum could still shift in favor of the agreement. But Ford executives have little hope of that happening.

"This may be the start of a little hard ball," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. "If Ford can’t be competitive on labor, I think we’ll see more outsourcing."

On Thursday, results from two Ohio locals were released, providing more bad news to the company and union leaders. UAW Local 420, which represents workers at Ford’s Walton Hills Stamping Plant, voted 88 percent against ratification. At UAW Local 863, which represents workers at the Sharonville Transmission Plant, 75 percent of workers voted no.

Now, attention is focused on UAW Local 862 in Louisville, where workers from Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant and Louisville Assembly Plant are casting their ballots.

That is Gettelfinger’s home local, and the UAW president traveled there on Sunday to urge members to support the deal.

Opponents are critical of a clause that would limit the UAW’s right to strike in the upcoming 2011 contract negotiations. But Ford says these limits are necessary to maintain a measure of parity with its domestic competitors, which negotiated even broader "no-strike" deals with the UAW during their recent bankruptcies.

The deal also offers the promise of new work to plants like Sterling Axle.

"I don’t think people here really understood that the work we had been promised was contingent on ratification," said Sterling Axle UAW member Brian Pannebecker, who voted in favor of the agreement and is now helping to organize a petition in support of revote.

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