Ford Chicago UAW local rejects contract as tensions rise
UAW recants comment on Ford hiring strike breakers if pact fails
DETROIT (Reuters) -- Workers at a major Ford Motor Co. auto plant in Chicago overwhelmingly rejected the proposed UAW-Ford four-year contact, a local union hall official said Thursday.
Of the 2,317 Chicago Assembly Plant workers casting ballots, 77 percent voted to reject the proposed deal, said Scott Houldieson, secretary-treasurer of UAW Local 551. The plant makes the Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV.
The UAW said this afternoon that 55 percent of its total membership -- 3,915 workers -- has voted against the contract. Based on that vote count, about 17 percent of the 41,000 UAW members at Ford had voted as of Thursday afternoon.
A local in suburban Cleveland has since voted in favor of the agreement, which wasn’t reflected in the UAW’s tally.
Houldieson said he had heard from workers that they did not like the lack of a cost-of-living allowance in the contract and the continuation of a two-tier pay scale.
Also Thursday, UAW Local 228, which represents about 2,000 workers at the Sterling Heights Axle Plant near Detroit, voted 64 percent to approve the contract, according to the local's Web site.
Earlier this week, UAW Local 900, which represents nearly 3,000 workers at three plants near Detroit, including Michigan Assembly, narrowly rejected the proposed contract.
“Workers just don’t think this is a good deal after all they’ve given up,” said Gary Walkowicz, a union official at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich., who is leading a campaign against the tentative agreement. “Times are obviously better for the company and the executives are getting raises, but they don’t want to give anything back to the workers.”
Houldieson said he could not predict the outcome of the overall vote, but the margin in Chicago made him believe that the "no" votes were now ahead in the current count.
"Michigan Assembly voted 'no' by a slim margin," he said. "If they get other plants to vote yes by small margins, then our vote definitely will tip the scales."
Ford and the UAW reached a tentative deal on Oct. 4 that calls for profit-sharing and signing bonuses rather than wage increases for veteran workers. UAW local unions representing about 41,000 workers will vote on the contract through October 18.
General Motors Co. workers in late September ratified their new four-year contract, which is slightly less generous than the proposed Ford pact.
On Wednesday, Chrysler Group LLC and the UAW reached a tentative deal that is less generous than GM's contract. UAW officials said that Chrysler's 26,000 UAW-represented workers will hold ratification votes over the next two weeks.
Meanwhile, the UAW recanted a Facebook Post it made Wednesday saying Ford will hire replacement workers if union members reject a proposed four-year contract.
The UAW didn't take back comments attributed to Vice President Jimmy Settles, the union's lead Ford negotiator, that a strike would be called if workers reject the tentative agreement reached Oct. 4 with Ford. The ratification vote concludes Oct. 18.
"To clarify an earlier post: Vice President Settles has never said that Ford will hire scab laborers," the UAW Ford Department said in a post late Wednesday. "There was a post that erroneously said that earlier."
In response to questions about its clarification, the UAW Ford Department said: "We absolutely can go on strike."
The union's earlier post said Settles would call for a strike if the contract is rejected and give Ford 72 hours notice of a walkout. The UAW has not had a national strike at Ford since 1976.
The union and the company have said they anticipate the deal will be approved by Ford's 41,000 U.S. hourly workers.
Settles "is still very optimistic that this agreement will pass," the UAW Ford Department clarification said. "This is a democratic process and we encourage all members to listen to the facts from the people who negotiated the contract before you vote."
Michele Martin, a spokeswoman for the UAW, did not respond to a request for comment.
Karen Hampton, a Ford spokeswoman, said the company remains confident. "The agreement is fair to our employees and improves Ford's competitiveness in the U.S.," she said in an e-mail today. "We remain optimistic that the tentative agreement will be approved."
In 2009, Ford workers rejected a deal endorsed by the UAW leadership that would have banned strikes until 2015 and frozen the pay of new workers for six years.
Bloomberg and Automotive News staff contributed to this report.Contact Automotive News