UAW, Ford pledge to work together to continue success

July 30, 2011 http://detnews.com/article/20110730/AUTO01/107300334

UAW, Ford pledge to work together to continue success

With profits up, it may be tough to negotiate benefits

CHRISTINA ROGERS
/ The Detroit News

Dearborn— The United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Co. marked the official start of contract talks Friday with a pledge to work together to secure new jobs and maintain the automaker’s upward trajectory.

Company and union leaders gathered for the ceremonial handshake at Ford’s historic Rouge plant, stressing the importance of their partnership in helping the automaker survive dark days, avoiding bankruptcy and a federal bailout.

“It was really a true case of partnership,” said Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr.

“We took a lot of tough actions that none of us wanted to do, but together we pulled the company through it and made it stronger.”

Ford was the last of Detroit’s Big Three automakers to officially launch labor talks. General Motors Co. had its official handshake with union leaders Wednesday; Chrysler’s was Monday. The union’s contract with the Detroit automakers expires Sept. 14.

Dearborn-based Ford this week posted a $2.4 billion second-quarter profit. And unlike GM and Chrysler, where strikes were banned as part of their government bailout, Ford workers are free to walk out if talks deadlock.

Many UAW workers want to regain benefits lost in previous negotiations. With Ford posting nine straight quarters of profit, the company may have a harder time than GM and Chrysler staving off any financial demands from the union.

UAW President Bob King, sitting across the table from CEO Alan Mulally and other top Ford leaders, was upbeat Friday. He said he is optimistic the company and union can work together to get through what he believes will be complex negotiations.

King said the UAW, which hasn’t struck Ford since 1976, isn’t heading into talks this year thinking about a strike.

“I don’t think about strikes,” said King, who was with Mulally and President Barack Obama earlier in the day to tout an agreement to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. “We don’t collectively think about strikes. We think about getting the best contract for our membership.”

Ford took a more conventional approach to its handshake ceremony than its crosstown rivals. Executives and union leaders sat across a conference table from one another; UAW bargainers, wearing matching blue polo shirts, sat behind the top union leaders at the table.

Ford’s team, dressed in dark suits, also sat behind its top executives.

GM and Chrysler each held their handshake events on the factory floor — rather than at a conference table — flanked by workers and management wearing matching shirts.

All three automakers are in varying degrees of financial health with Chrysler the weakest and GM in the middle, making traditional pattern bargaining difficult this year. And while Ford’s financial position is stronger, it’s carrying heavy debt and says its labor costs remain higher than its foreign rivals.

Ford’s all-in costs, which include wages and benefits, are at $58 an hour per worker, above the $50 per-hour average for the foreign car companies, said Marty Mulloy, vice president of labor relations at Ford.

“We’d respectively do our math a little differently but we’d do that at the bargaining table,” King said.

King also called for union representation on all three automaker boards of directors, a proposal aimed at Ford, where the UAW still lacks a seat.

The union’s health care trust funds already have representation on the GM and Chrysler boards, a result of the 2009 bailouts.

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