UAW 'optimistic' Ford deal will gain approval despite setbacks

Ford workers are continuing to vote on the proposed contract. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles today urged the union’s members to vote for the tentative contract with Ford Motor Co. and said he’s “optimistic” the agreement will be approved despite key “no” votes in recent days.

Settles said the tentative deal, which includes wage increases, a signing bonus and $9 billion in investments, is the best pact the UAW could have bargained for. He said heading back to negotiations could result in the loss of key gains.

“You’ve got to understand, we hired a lot of people in a very short period of time,” Settles said at a news conference at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Mich. “And for many of them, this is their first jobs. They don’t understand the process. We try to do the best we possibly can to educate them to the process.”

The news conference came a day after about two-thirds of workers represented by Local 862 in Louisville, Ky., rejected the agreement. The local represents workers at Ford’s Louisville and Kentucky Truck assembly plants, accounting for about 18 percent of the automaker’s U.S. work force.

Voting is in its final three days, and many of the remaining locals will need to vote “yes” if the deal is to pass. Fifty-two percent of production workers have rejected the pact thus far, while 51 percent of skilled-trades workers voted “yes.” The agreement requires both groups’ approval.

About three-quarters of workers have voted so far, according to the UAW, and final results should be known by Saturday.

Misinformation on social

Settles blamed misinformation from social media and elsewhere for swaying some workers, especially younger ones, against the deal. He said it is union leadership’s job to educate members on the deal’s advantages and to shoot down “misnomers.”

“It’s difficult to track all that,” Settles said.

UAW members at only two major plants are known to have approved the deal thus far: Ohio Assembly in Avon Lake, which produces the F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks, and Michigan Assembly in Wayne, which builds the Focus and C-Max small cars. The Chicago stamping plant is among the smaller factories whose workers voted in favor of the deal.

The Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants joined Kansas City Assembly in rejecting the deal. Smaller plants including a stamping plant in Buffalo, N.Y.; an axle plant in Sterling Heights, Mich.; a parts plant in Ypsilanti, Mich.; and two engine plants in Ohio also rejected the deal.

Despite the setbacks, Settles said he is “optimistic” the deal will pass.

“It looks dark now, but it might be light in the morning,” Settles said.

The UAW also is amid new talks with General Motors to address concerns of skilled-trades workers who rejected a tentative contract, despite production workers voting “yes.”

Last month, the union ratified a new four-year contract with Fiat Chrysler after workers rejected an initial deal.

More in second round?

Some Ford workers have pointed to the FCA pact as a sign that they could get more out of a second round of negotiations. Settles warned against such thinking.

“Some people, especially younger people, think that you just go open Door No. 2 and see if there’s something behind Door No. 2,” Settles said. “That’s not really how negotiations go.”

FCA agreed to a higher Tier 2 wage scale last month after heading back to the bargaining table, while the UAW agreed to more temporary workers and lower pay for future hires in return.

The tentative deal with Ford includes an $8,500 signing bonus for Ford’s 53,000 hourly workers, a pay raise for veteran workers and an eight-year path to full pay for Tier 2 workers. It also contains $9 billion in investments at its U.S. operations over the next four years, more than the combined investments at GM and Chrysler.

Settles said the UAW would risk losing some of those investments if it heads back to the negotiating table.

“The irony of negotiations is when you go back to the table, everything is off the table,” Settles said.

Local 600 President Bernie Ricke, who joined Settles at the news conference, called a potential strike in the wake of a rejection “bad for both sides.”

“A strike doesn’t do anybody any good,” Ricke said. “It doesn’t do the workers any good. It doesn’t do the company any good. It’s obviously the last resort in the negotiation.”

Ricke said he will hold a 14th “explanation meeting” this afternoon to try to persuade his members to vote for what he said is a “balanced” agreement.

“There’s significant economic improvements for everybody,” Ricke said.

He said the UAW would be unable to get a better deal in a second round of negotiations.

“If we thought there was another dollar on the table, we would’ve gotten it the first time,” Ricke said.

Veteran employees would receive 3 percent raises in years one and three of the contract and 4 percent lump sum payments in years two and four. A $12,000 cap on profit-sharing checks would be lifted.

Like FCA, Ford would cease most U.S. car production by the end of the decade, shifting car output to Mexico or elsewhere. Aside from production of the Mustang and Lincoln Continental in Flat Rock, Mich., each U.S. assembly plant would build trucks, SUVs or crossovers by 2020.

For instance, sources told Automotive News Michigan Assembly would build the new Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV after production of the small cars moves out of the U.S. by 2018.

You can reach John Irwin at jirwin@crain.com -- Follow John on Twitter: @JohnDIrwin

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