DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. and the UAW have had the advantage of time and the previous negotiations at General Motors and Chrysler LLC to close in on a new agreement.
UAW leaders are expected to turn their undivided attention to Ford this week after a contentious and narrow ratification vote at Chrysler.
Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans declined to comment on the labor talks.
But the closeness of the Chrysler vote -- 56 percent in favor and little support at assembly plants -- is going to make it tougher for Ford to stray much from the pattern at GM and Chrysler, said a source familiar with the Ford talks.
The Chrysler ratification vote was too close to predict until Wednesday, when all-out lobbying by UAW leadership at four Chrysler plants in suburban Detroit turned the tide.
The contract passed by wide margins at all four plants, including Warren Truck and Sterling Heights Assembly.
That appeared to make Friday's voting at Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly, where Chrysler builds the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass and Patriot, anti-climatic. Only 45 percent of the rank-and-file at Belvidere approved the pact, according to a source briefed on the vote.
Ratification of the contract depends on a simple majority of all workers who vote.
Worker buyouts, a retiree health care trust and future product commitments are the issues percolating in the Ford talks, sources say.
Ford needs concessions
But Ford needs more dramatic concessions than those granted to General Motors and Chrysler, says Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.
Ford, which posted a $12.6 billion net loss in 2006, could use temporary wage concessions in exchange for later profit sharing or a bonus, Cole said. Neither GM nor Chrysler received wage reductions, though the union agreed to accept bonuses in lieu of pay raises.
Ford is unlikely to offer as much in product commitments as the UAW received from GM, Cole said. Ford still hasnt announced six of the 16 plants it intends to close as part of a restructuring detailed last year.
The failure of Chrysler to make firm product commitments to specific plants keyed opposition to the contract.
Ford bargainers have gotten that message, a union source said. The company will have to make some product commitments, the source said.
But Cole said the commitments probably wont be as comprehensive as GMs plans because product plans are in flux and Ford is moving, like GM, to build its vehicles on global platforms that share basic architecture whether theyre targeted for North America, Europe or Asia.
Product commitments are dependent on the reasonable financial performance of the company, Cole said. The union understands that.
The source said 8,000 to 12,000 buyouts will be needed to close plants and shrink Fords work force below the 50,000 hourly workers it has today.
Another sticking point in the Chrysler ratification new-hire wages for non-production jobs wont be an issue at Ford. UAW locals at all but two of Fords 31 plants have approved local competitive operating agreements that have provisions for so-called tier-two wages and benefits.
Chrysler workers contended that a tier-two wage would be divisive in the factory because workers earning less would resent the higher wages of veteran workers.