Workers at two major Ford Motor Co. plants have roundly rejected the tentative four-year contract they’ve been offered by the automaker, raising the specter that this agreement might also go down to defeat, much like the settlement originally offered by Fiat Chrysler AG earlier this autumn.
That would be the latest setback for the leadership team at the United Auto Workers Union, UAW bargainers already struggling to pull things together at General Motors. Line workers there accepted their own contract offer, but that deal was rejected by skilled trades employees.
In an unusual move, union leaders were scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday morning to address the situation and lay out plans to move forward. Under UAW President Dennis Williams, the union has been struggling to win over workers who want to make significant gains after years of concessions and who see the auto industry setting record sales and near-record profits.
The Ford contract suffered its latest setback when workers at the Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants voted by a roughly two-thirds margin to reject their contract, even though the Ford agreement was considered the most lucrative of the offers from the Detroit Big Three.
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A worried note was sounded when negotiators hammered out an agreement with Fiat Chrysler shortly after the midnight September 15th deadline. That agreement did address a key demand of the rank-and-file, setting in motion the eventual phase-out of the much-hated two-tier wage system that has meant recent plant hires are making barely half the wages and benefits of veteran employees.
But members grumbled about a variety of other issues, including a constantly changing work schedule, as they voted the FCA contract down.
Bargainers were forced back to work themselves, soon coming up with an agreement that passed muster.
They then shifted attention to General Motors and the four-year settlement there was considered more financially attractive while also addressing some of the additional concerns workers had voiced. But, yet again, it ran into trouble. In an unusual situation, line workers have approved the GM agreement, but it was rejected by skilled trades members.
(UAW reopens talks with GM. Click Here for the latest.)
The UAW has put implementation of the GM contract on hold. While its bylaws mean the agreement didn’t necessarily fail, the two sides are trying to tweak the language so all GM workers are onboard, and that will require a second skilled trades vote.
Ford seemed to read the workforce mood, and it delivered what seemed an acceptable contract offer to UAW negotiators even before the GM voting was completed, itself an unusual move. The Ford contract was considered by far the most financially lucrative, including a $10,000 signing bonus. And the company has traditionally had the best labor/management relations of the Detroit Big Three.
But the “no” at the two Kentucky plants means that, for the moment, with about 60% of Ford workers voting, the contract has been given thumbs down by a slight majority.
The make-or-break votes will now come at two Midwest plants, one in Dearborn, Michigan, the other in Chicago.
Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president representing Ford’s 53,000 union employees, is expected to make a final push to win them over and pull out a victory, however narrow.
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