In what could be a sleeper issue in the 2019 contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co., union officials said they plan to take a hard look at the automaker’s new alliance with Volkswagen AG.
Gary Jones, UAW President, took a hard line during the traditional handshake that marked the opening of talks with Ford. Negotiations with General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. will kick off later this week.
“We saw, beginning in January of this year, and the continued discussions, an alliance with Volkswagen in Europe. As all are aware, Volkswagen was not friendly to the UAW in Chattanooga and we will look very hard and with great concern at any alliance with them or any other non-labor friendly company,” Jones said.
“I’m sure more will come on this front,” said Jones of the alliance, which is being hailed by executives from both companies while some analysts describe the tie-up as having the potential to change the industry’s dynamics.
Jones also emphasized that the union was expecting to make economic gains in the upcoming bargaining with Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler. “We’re seeing record profits for our American companies but, sad to say, those gains aren’t translating to our workers gains,” he said.
“In fact, the Big 3 are more profitable in North America than any of their competitors. You have the home field advantage that our members built,” Jones said.
Ford employs more union members than either GM or FCA and during the past for decades has had a cordial relation with union – a point emphasized by Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman, who noted he had begun his career with the company as a very junior member of the carmaker’s bargaining team in 1982.
“Thank you for all you have done to help build our company and our industry,” said Ford, who also acknowledged the union’helped save the company during the financial crisis and recession of 2008 and 2009.
The UAW, however, is smarting from its narrow loss at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga where it was attempting to organize some 1,700 VW workers in the UAW.
“If you lost by 29 votes would you walk away and give up,” observed one union official after the votes were counted in the latest of the three votes in Chattanooga. The union lost 833 to 776 but a shift of 29 votes could have changed the outcome.
Before the vote, VW scrambled to make changes inside the plant to accommodate workers before the voting started. It also brought back Frank Fischer to serve as CEO in Chattanooga. Fischer developed close ties to the Tennessee’s anti-union Republican establishment during his first tour in Chattanooga.
UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg emphasized in a discussion with reporters after Jones’ remarks that organizing in Tennessee remains a union priority. “This is an important issue for the union,” said Rothenberg, who said the union was eyeing the ground rules for the new Ford-VW alliance.
The UAW might insist that in the next round VW must maintain strict neutrality and not make any moves that could be construed as anti-union, including asking Republican political figures to visit or allowing supervisors to campaign against the union.
Joe Hinrichs, Ford executive vice president and head of the company’s automotive operations, said he expects the alliance to operate outside of the United States. But the UAW could have a role in Argo, the automated driving unit that is expected to operate in the U.S., Hinrichs said.
“The conversations we have, the discussions we have are always taking place,” Hinrichs said. “We know that the UAW and Ford will work together to find solutions to be competitive and that over time, that’s who wins.”