Ford contract has unique take on core jobs

New hires handled differently than at GM and Chrysler

DETROIT — Assembly line worker Jason Hillman thinks Ford Motor Co. is taking the fastest, most humane path to a lower paid work force.

Hillman, 36, doesn't want to spend the rest of his career affixing rear cross members to Ford Focus sedans at the Wayne assembly plant in suburban Detroit. Someday, he expects to move to an easier job off the line.

He'll take advantage of a provision in the new UAW contract whereby Ford won't reserve nonproduction jobs for lower paid new hires.

It is a key difference between the UAW's Ford contract and its pacts with General Motors and Chrysler LLC. For the most part, GM and Chrysler will fill so-called noncore jobs such as maintenance and forklift driving with lower paid new hires. Today's higher paid workers mostly will stay in core production jobs.

The differences
Alone among the Detroit 3, Ford will allow lower paid new hires to take either core production jobs or noncore ones, such as maintenance or forklift driving. Doing so
• Avoids filling key noncore posts solely with greenhorns
• Keeps less strenuous noncore jobs available for aging current employees
• May allow Ford to attain a lower wage work force faster
Source: Ford Motor Co.

2 tiers, 2 categories

"I'm glad Ford is making no distinction between core jobs and noncore jobs," says Hillman, a 12-year Ford veteran. "It kind of defeats the whole purpose of seniority."

During last fall's Detroit 3 negotiations, the UAW broke from its principle of equal pay for equal work, agreeing to a two-tier wage structure. Each of the Detroit 3 is offering buyout and early retirement packages. The new contracts allow the Detroit 3 to replace those who leave with workers paid half of what current workers get.

GM and Chrysler agreed to pay the lower wage only for nonproduction jobs. Now GM, Chrysler and UAW locals are haggling over which jobs will be deemed core or noncore.

Ford will allow new hires to fill production or nonproduction jobs alike, said Ford human resources chief Joe Laymon before he left the company last week. Ford thinks the flexibility will allow it to attain a lower cost work force faster because any job opening can be filled with a two-tier wage earner, Laymon said.

Ford also was concerned that too much talent might be lost in key nonproduction jobs if those jobs were filled solely with new hires, he said.

Not until '09

The UAW negotiated a cap of 20 percent of all jobs going to two-tier workers. But Ford probably won't do any significant hiring until at least 2009, Laymon said.

Until then, any job openings are likely to go to laid-off workers or to workers who flow back to Ford from factories being sold by Ford's Automotive Components Holdings LLC.

Hillman is thankful for Ford's approach. Nonproduction jobs are prized because they aren't so hard on the body, he says. A stocky man, Hillman got accustomed to less strenuous work as a team leader at Ford's Michigan Truck assembly plant next door. He guided a production team until the plant dropped a shift six months ago and he had to move over to a line job at the Wayne assembly plant.

Says Hillman: "I liked being a team leader. But I like having a job, too." 

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com

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