UAW strike authorization at Ford Dearborn heads for approval, official says

UAW strike authorization at Ford Dearborn heads for approval, official says
David Barkholz
Automotive News | August 30, 2011 – 4:06 pm EST
UPDATED: 11:55 p.m. ET

DETROIT — A UAW local representative at Ford Motor Co.’s Dearborn Truck plant predicted that 2,500 hourly workers in his bargaining unit would overwhelmingly approve a strike authorization as part of a two-day vote that wrapped up late Tuesday.

Gary Walkowicz, a committeeman for UAW Local 600, said workers leaving the polls and on the factory floor are heavily tending toward authorization. A final count was expected to be delivered to the UAW International Wednesday, he said. Dearborn Truck makes Ford F-150 pickups.

The Dearborn workers would join employees in Louisville, Ky., who gave their leaders the authority to approve a walkout in a vote tallied Tuesday. The vote was 98.7 percent in favor, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Workers at Ford’s assembly plant near Kansas City, Mo., voted 3,049-18 to authorize a strike in voting that concluded Saturday. The Kansas City plant makes F-150s, and Escape and Escape Hybrid crossovers.

While such votes are considered a routine part of the negotiating process, Walkowicz said Ford rank-and-file workers are sending a message that they are ready to strike if the Ford/UAW contract talks fail to return “a substantial amount of concessions” made by workers in the 2007 contract and when it was reopened in 2009.

Ford declined to comment.

UAW President Bob King has estimated those givebacks at $7,000 to $30,000 per worker over the life of the contract.

Ford’s 41,000 UAW members are the only Detroit 3 auto workers who can strike during this year’s auto talks. General Motors and Chrysler Group workers gave up that right for binding arbitration ahead of the carmakers’ 2009 bankruptcies. Ford workers refused a no-strike clause.

King and Detroit 3 negotiators are racing to complete negotiations in time for the Sept. 14 expiration of the current four-year labor deals. The rank-and-file will have a chance to ratify any tentative agreements coming out of the negotiations.

Some UAW leaders, including UAW Ford Department Vice President Jimmy Settles, have characterized the strike authorization votes being taken at all U.S. Ford plants as a formality. The international union wants the voting completed by Friday Sept. 2.

But King raised the specter of a strike at Ford on Monday after refusing to discuss the possibility at previous press meetings throughout the year. He said GM survived a short strike in 2007 without lasting damage to its UAW relationship, and Ford could weather the same. He prefaced the remarks by saying nobody wants a strike.

Walkowicz said Ford workers want a raise, restoration of cost-of-living allowances and improved compensation for entry-level workers who earn half the pay and benefits of traditional workers earning $28 an hour in wages. Hourly workers at the Detroit 3 also have not had a wage increase since 2003, and their compensation has lost ground to inflation as a result, he said.

Detroit 3 labor negotiators have said they don’t want to pay wage increases because raises would become fixed costs that would compound over time and be difficult to cut if vehicle sales were to flag.

Instead, the Detroit 3 would prefer to increase compensation during these talks through improved profit-sharing and a performance bonus formula.

King: Now raising specter of a strike

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