UAW committeeman wants teeth in Ford strike authorization

David Barkholz covers labor issues for Automotive News

Ford auto worker Gary Walkowicz says he heard something at a recent meeting of UAW leadership in Chicago that gave him pause.

UAW negotiations with Ford were going so well that people in the union discussed whether a strike-authorization vote was even necessary, says Walkowicz, quoting UAW President Bob King.

Ultimately, the union decided its 41,000 Ford members would vote on strike authorization. It must be completed by Sept. 2.

Still, Walkowicz says it was folly to even contemplate giving up the best weapon the union has to optimize wages and benefits for members.

"Unless we make it very clear to the companies that we are ready to strike, then the companies have no reason to give us back the concessions they have taken from us," Walkowicz says in a letter to Ford rank and file.

Walkowicz, a union committeeman at the Ford Rouge plant in suburban Detroit, successfully led the fight in 2009 to defeat concessions calling for a no-strike clause in this year's negotiations. As a result Ford workers are unique among the Detroit 3 in their ability to strike. Hourly workers at General Motors and Chrysler Group agreed to the concession before the automakers went into Chapter 11 reorganization.

Walkowicz is handing out his letter today to the 2,500 hourly workers at the Rouge plant and he has e-mailed it to colleagues around the country for distribution in other Ford plants. It is titled "We have to make this a real strike vote!"

Walkowicz says he's concerned about recent statements from King and other UAW officials that workers might have to settle for enhanced profit-sharing in this round of negotiations rather than a raise and restoration of the cost of living adjustment. UAW members have not had a wage increase since 2003 and their COLA is currently frozen.

Regardless, he says he'll wait to see what's in the contract language before he decides whether it's acceptable. Meanwhile, workers need to take the strike authorization seriously and be prepared to back it up with a work stoppage if they don't like the contract, he said.

The vote is much more than the formality that union leadership has portrayed it, Walkowicz says.

"The ultimate power," he says, "rests with the members."

The UAW's four-year contracts with the Detroit 3 expire on Sept. 14.

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