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Ford contract rejected at 2 more plants; UAW leaders scramble to win approval

UAW voting continues today at several U.S. plants, including Chicago (pictured). Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
UPDATED: 11/18/15 9:24 am ET - adds UAW comment

UAW leaders are scrambling to save a proposed contract with Ford Motor Co. after workers at two large assembly plants overwhelmingly voted against it Tuesday.

Members of UAW Local 862 in Louisville, which represents about 18 percent of Ford’s U.S. work force, rejected the tentative agreement by a 2-1 margin. That was the largest margin of defeat at any of the locals whose votes have been publicly reported.

As voting enters the final two days, the deal is failing among production workers -- 52 percent “no” to 48 percent “yes” -- and passing among skilled-trades employees by a slim margin of 51 percent to 49 percent, according to tallies compiled by Automotive News and a UAW local in Chicago. Both groups of workers must approve the deal by a simple majority for it to be ratified.

UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles has called a news conference at the Local 600 union hall in Dearborn, Mich., this morning, to discuss the ongoing vote and, presumably, to urge workers voting today and Thursday to support the agreement. 

“It is one of the richest agreements in the history of UAW-Ford," Settles said in a statement issued Nov. 6, when the tentative contract was announced.

Members of Local 600, which represents the Dearborn Truck Plant and several smaller facilities nearby, are scheduled to start voting today, and voting finishes today at the Chicago and Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plants.

“The local requested the press conference and did so long before any results yesterday,” UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said today in an email.

In addition to Local 862 at the Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants, the deal has been voted down easily at an axle plant in Sterling Heights, Mich.; a stamping plant in Buffalo, N.Y.; a parts plant in Ypsilanti, Mich.; and engine plants in Cleveland and Lima, Ohio. Workers at the Kansas City Assembly Plant narrowly defeated it as well.

Only two assembly plants have voted in favor of the agreement: Ohio Assembly, where 52 percent voted “yes,” and Michigan Assembly, where 81 percent were in favor. The deal calls for Michigan Assembly to get a $700 million investment and two new products -- identified by sources as a Ranger pickup and Bronco SUV -- to replace the Focus and C-Max small cars that Ford plans to move out of the U.S. in 2018.

Major investments

In total, Ford told the UAW it would invest some $9 billion in its U.S. manufacturing network, creating or securing 8,500 jobs. The two Louisville plants that voted the agreement down are slated for a total investment of $1.3 billion.

The deal would give Ford workers an $8,500 signing bonus, raise wages for veteran workers and put lower-paid workers hired since 2007 on a path toward full pay within eight years. Some workers have complained that eight years is too long, given that the contract expires in four years and automakers could demand changes at that time if the economy has worsened.

Many workers have been rallying opposition to the contract on Facebook and within their plants, pointing to what improved terms that workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles received earlier this fall after rejecting the first deal that the UAW’s negotiating team agreed to.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the industry and labor group at the Center for Automotive Research, said that’s a misguided and risky strategy. The second FCA deal created a higher wage scale for current workers but it made up for that with lower pay for future hires, greater use of temporary workers and less job security.

“FCA did not -- and GM and Ford will not -- get more if they go back to the table,” Dziczek said. “The companies do not want to encourage a first-round no vote by giving in to higher demands. More money will mean fewer jobs.”

Meanwhile, some workers who support the deal now worry they won’t receive the $10,000 payment they were expecting -- the signing bonus plus a $1,500 advance on 2016 profit-sharing checks that are expected to exceed $6,600 -- before Christmas.

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com -- Follow Nick on Twitter: @nickbunkley

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