Ford Contract Near Approval

Late votes overcome early resistance.

by on Oct.17, 2011

Rouge workers have given thumbs-up to the new Ford contract, likely preventing its defeat.

A big ‘”yes” vote by workers at the Rouge manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan appears to have saved the United Auto Workers Union tentative agreement with Ford Motor Co. and removed the potential for a strike against the automaker had the contract been rejected.

The threat of a strike had become increasingly likely, last week, as voting moved ahead on the 4-year settlement, workers at several key plants turning thumbs down in the hopes of sending negotiators back to the bargaining table for an even more lucrative offer from the most profitable of the Detroit Big Three automakers.

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The Rouge was seen by some as the make-or-break plant since it is one of the centers of dissent over the new contract.  That sent UAW leaders scurrying to try to curry support.  Their lobbying appears to have paid off and Local 600 reported that the yes votes favoring the contract totaled 3255, or 62%, while 2027, or 38%, voted to rejected the proposed agreement, according to information supplied by the union.

With the suburban Detroit complex voting in favor, the Ford contract now appears headed for ratification despite some fierce resistance.

In addition, workers at Ford’s Kansas City Assembly plant also gave an overwhelming, 2701 to 291 vote in favor of ratification. As of Sunday evening 14,845, or 62%, of Ford workers nationwide have approved their new contract, while 9,076, or 38%, have rejected the tentative agreement, which includes a $6,000 signing bonus and pay hikes for second-tier workers, as well as a commitment from Ford to add hundreds of new jobs at Ford plants around the U.S.

The union is scheduled to release the official tally Tuesday – even as voting continues on the tentative agreement reached last week between the UAW and Chrysler.  Observers had feared that a ‘no’ vote at Ford might have led Chrysler workers to reject their own settlement – especially since it offers less money up front, just $3,500 in its signing bonus.

UAW president Bob King had predicted last week the contract would pass even after the two major locals at Ford plants near Detroit and Chicago voted to reject the contract.

But the outcome was still too close for comfort as an internet-driven “vote no” campaign took hold and nearly undermined King’s campaign for a favorable vote. Ford workers voted down contract changes in 2009 and dissidents have complained the proposed contract with Ford did not recover the concessions they have made since 2007 to help the company.

The tentative contract signed by the UAW and Ford doesn’t measure up to that standard, according to Gary Walkowicz, a UAW committeeman from UAW Local 600. Walkowicz was one of the leaders of the fight against contract concessions in 2009. He is also urging a “no” vote on the proposed Ford agreement through a letter that been widely circulated on the internet.

The UAW’s Facebook pages, including those put up by the union’s leadership, also have carried a large amount of negative commentary about the proposed Ford agreement. The lack of pension improvements and the lack of any improvement in base wages have contributed to the discontent among workers.

“Ford is rolling in profits and Wall Street is ticked to see this contract. But we don’t even get the concessions back – from COLA, to annual improvement factor,” noted a leaflet circulated inside the Rouge plant.

The Internet also has provided union dissidents a powerful tool for organizing opposition. Meanwhile, the discontent has forced King to alter the union’s strategy by putting more emphasis on improving the second tier wage.

Rejection of the contract could have set the stage for a bruising conflict, including a potential strike, that both the UAW and Ford would prefer to avoid.


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