bob king

UAW-Ford contract: Will auto workers do what they want or do what they're told?

The UAW's handshake deal with Ford Motor Co. is so sweet that the union council that endorsed taking the four-year contract to the membership for ratification isn't worried about backlash or backtalk from the rank and file. And neither is the UAW's brass.

"They don’t have to sell the agreement,” UAW President Bob King told reporters. “They feel like this agreement stands on its own.”

But the UAW leadership's enthusiasm doesn't equate to a done deal. The union's 41,000 members, who begin ratification voting today, can reject the pact, accept it or ask for a strike-authorization vote if they think the union was too zealous in accepting its "template" second best just so it can settle things fast with Ford Motor and get to securing its unsettled contract with Chrysler Group LLC.

The Ford Motor deal is far from phat. It's a conservative carbon copy of the agreement that was won by the UAW for General Motors Co. unionized workers last month. The Ford Motor offer delivers job security for veteran auto workers, new jobs for thousands of future union American auto workers, $16 billion in U.S. investment by Ford Motor by 2015 — including $6.2 billion in plants, directly — and better bonus money and profit-sharing situations than before.

But many Ford Motor workers are unimpressed. They have said loudly, in television and newspaper interviews and even on Ford Motor's own Facebook pages in posts, that they deserve a more lucrative payday than their union brothers at GM got because they have made more concessions and sacrifices than anybody since 2007. How that point of view will impact the ratification vote remains to be seen.

UAW VP Jimmy Settles is nonplussed by the in-house debates. He believes the handshake deal on the table provides everything the membership should want.

"This agreement is the result of weeks of intense negotiations on the part of our entire 2011 National Negotiating Committee and UAW Ford staff," Settles said.

"I would further like to extend my gratitude to our entire membership for their patience and support during this negotiating process. I am well aware of both the uncertainty and uneasiness that can arise when negotiations go longer than expected. However the overwhelming majority of our membership understood that it was more important to get a good agreement, rather than a quick one."

A disappointed Bill Warren thinks his union sold him out and plans to reject instead of ratify. "Settles ... what a fitting last name," Warren said, sarcastically.

Sandra Hessian, another unhappy Ford Motor worker, is advising UAW colleagues to "vote no!"

Presuming UAW Ford Motor workers give the contract the green light, plant investments and jobs will come, at first, to an auto plant in the suburban Detroit downriver community of Flat Rock; to a truck plant in Dearborn, Mich., where Ford Motor is based; to a van plant in Claycomo, Mo., near Kansas City; to a truck plant in Avon Lake, Ohio; and then to other places.

As was the case with the UAW-GM deal, jobs and investment money that would have gone outside the United States are now coming to America. To make this deal with the UAW, Ford Motor is siphoning jobs away from Mexican, Chinese and Japanese workers and giving them to Americans who will be newly hired at just under $20 hourly -- entry-level wages in the U.S. auto industry. The union benefits because those new workers will be paying union dues once a month after they are hired.

New hires likely will all be people referred and recommended by current Ford Motor workers, not people off the street making applications out of the blue to Ford HR. That means if a relative works at Ford Motor, or you know a friend, you'll have an "in" over someone who just makes a cold application and is equally qualified.

John Fleming, Ford Motor's executive vice president of global manufacturing, said 5,750 jobs are being added in addition to the previously agreed to 6,250 U.S. jobs that are being created or retained at the UAW's behest.

The UAW-Ford Motor contract if ratified would provide $6,000 in four installments in lieu of COLA pay to auto workers at Ford Motor.

COLA pay is permanent and bonuses will be treated by the IRS the same as 1099 money -- no taxes are taken out. Ford Motor auto workers would be responsible for paying their own taxes on the bonus and if fired, retired or laid off, that money will not be considered by the state when determining a worker's level of unemployment compensation.

Congressman Thaddeus G. McCotter from Michigan praised the deal.

“This agreement between Ford and the UAW is welcome news for American manufacturing and the people of Michigan. It means more jobs in the United States, more jobs in the state of Michigan and more jobs in the 11th Congressional District," McCotter said.

"I am hopeful the ratification process with the UAW locals’ leaders and members will be successful. This contract demonstrates fairness to Ford’s employees and will improve the company’s competitiveness in the United States and abroad.”

Jeff Hill disagrees. He is a UAW Ford Motor worker who wanted more.

"Looks like we have helped the bigwigs at Ford more then ourselves," Hill said. "What 'til you see the huge bonuses they get next year!"

Ava Chris is ready to strike Ford Motor right now. "This tentative agreement is an absolute insult to our seniority employees," Chris said. "Start getting the picket signs ready, brothers and sisters."

Chris's sentiment is gaining steam. The Socialist Equality Party, in an editorial on its Web site today, called the UAW-Ford Motor contract proposal a "union sellout" created by co-conspirators at the expense of auto workers.

The spirited online editorial urges Ford UAW workers to reject ratification and to strike to get what's coming to them. Here is an edited summary of the Socialist Equality Party's call for a Ford strike in the United States:

"Workers at Ford should organize now to defeat the sell-out contract signed by the UAW and take the leadership of all auto workers in a struggle to abolish the two-tier wage system and restore all pay and benefit concessions.

"With Ford making billions and stuffing the bank accounts of its top executives, UAW President Bob King is demanding workers accept a deal that will sharply increase number of low-paid Tier 2 (entry level) workers and continue the eight-year pay freeze for current workers. By the end of the four-year deal this will mean a cut in real wages of thousands of dollars for each worker.

"Like the GM deal, the pact with Ford substitutes profit sharing and 'competitive awards' for wage increases. In addition to robbing workers of future pension payments, this will lead to a (factory) speed-up and a wave of industrial accidents, and will further cement the UAW’s role as a wing of corporate management.

"The goal is to permanently end 'middle class' wages by ridding the industry of higher-paid workers and replacing them with a cheap labor workforce.

"The signing payment and other lump-sum bonuses being used to push this rotten deal fall far short of the $7,000 to $30,000 in annual wages and benefits each worker has lost since 2007. The company has refused to restore COLA and hourly wage increases — which would cost less than the $98 million in stock awards it handed over to Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. last March.

"The negotiations have been little more than a conspiracy between two business entities (Ford Motor and the UAW) that have a vested interest in wrenching ever-greater profits out of the backs of workers. More poverty-level jobs mean millions more in dues income for UAW executives like King and Settles, whose six-digit salaries and expense accounts shot up 24% between 2009 and 2010. More profits also boost the value of the Ford, GM and Chrysler shares held by Solidarity House.

"The Socialist Equality Party calls for the formation of rank-and-file committees elected and controlled by the workers themselves. These committees will have the task of establishing lines of communication with workers in every Ford factory to begin the campaign for a national strike."

Separately, the World Socialist Web site said in a news article this morning by reporter Shannon Jones that the UAW's managers are in cahoots with Ford bosses at the expense of the unionized auto workers at Ford. Jones said the site's reporters, who have been critical of the UAW, were banned from covering its news conference announcing the contract's acceptance, but welcomed what she called "anti-labor corporate media" like The Detroit News, "knowing that these capitalist publications would praise the contract agreement." The Detroit News and others have, in fact, done just that.

The UAW "barred the (World Socialist Web site) because it is terrified of a socialist publication that accurately reports the content of its pro-company contracts and, more broadly, its anti-working class policies," Jones said.

"The fact that the UAW decides to bar us now only underscores ... its fear of mounting opposition among rank-and-file workers. The UAW apparatus is clearly concerned over opposition to its sellout among Ford workers."

The ratification voting concludes Oct. 16.

Reach TN's Hawke Fracassa at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @HawkeFracassa.

Image source: Wikipedia

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