Ford workers approve UAW contract after late push by union leaders

Workers in Louisville, Ky., were among the strongest opponents of the deal, which was saved by counterparts in Dearborn, Mich. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
UPDATED: 11/21/15 12:15 am ET - adds vote details

DETROIT -- A last-ditch push by UAW leaders to rally support for a proposed contract with Ford Motor Co. mustered just enough votes to overcome widespread opposition and bitterness among workers as the company generates record profits.

The union now has new four-year contracts in place with all three Detroit automakers.

The UAW said late Friday that 51.4 percent of Ford workers voted in favor of the deal -- a margin of about 1,100 votes out of more than 40,000 cast. Strong support at UAW Local 600, which represents workers at several large plants in Dearborn, Mich., turned the tide after the deal appeared destined for defeat.

“Our UAW members have ratified the national agreement after a long process and much debate,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement. “The voice of the majority has secured a strong future that will provide job security and economic stability for themselves and their families.”

UAW officials spent the final days of voting urging Local 600 workers to vote “yes,” warning that a rejection would not result in a better contract and could instead lead to Ford pulling back on plans to invest $9 billion in its U.S. manufacturing operations.

Production workers approved the deal by a 51.3 percent margin, while 52.4 percent of voting skilled-trades workers gave their OK, the union said.

Some of the plants where opposition was strongest, including Louisville Assembly, Kentucky Truck and Chicago Assembly, were promised more jobs and investments of at least $600 million. As of Wednesday, the deal was failing by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.

$8,500 signing bonus

The deal offers Ford’s 53,000 hourly workers a signing bonus of $8,500, plus a $1,500 advance on next year’s profit-sharing payout, which is expected to be more than $6,600.

Veteran workers will get 3 percent raises this year and in 2017 — their first in a decade — plus 4 percent lump-sum bonuses in 2016 and 2018. The deal puts workers hired since 2007 on a path to full wages within eight years, a period that many complained was too long.

“We are pleased,” John Fleming, Ford’s executive vice president for global manufacturing and labor affairs, said in a statement. “This agreement provides a good foundation for Ford Motor Company, our employees and our communities as we work together to create an even stronger business in the years ahead.”

The narrow approval avoids a potentially contentious and embarrassing situation for the UAW’s leadership, which also had trouble getting deals ratified with Fiat Chrysler and General Motors.

“There is no higher authority than the membership,” UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, the union’s lead negotiator with Ford, said in a statement. “Through a fair and democratic process UAW-Ford members have delivered job security and strong economic gains for their families and communities.”

FCA workers turned down the first tentative agreement reached with that company, before approving a deal that went further toward eliminating the two-tier wage scale. Approval of a contract with GM was delayed after skilled-trades employees voted it down, but the UAW declared it ratified earlier Friday.

Some Ford workers pointed to the outcome at FCA as evidence that voting “no” would produce a better deal for themselves as well. But UAW leaders insisted that wasn’t accurate.

“If we thought there was another dollar on the table, we would’ve gotten it the first time,” Local 600 President Bernie Ricke said at a press conference Wednesday to counter the opposition.

Kristin Dziczek, director of the labor and industry group at the Center for Automotive Research, said the overall cost of the two FCA deals was virtually identical, but that the second agreement gave workers less job security in exchange for letting Tier 2 workers eventually earn more money.

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

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