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UAW-Ford Motor Co. auto contract takes a promising right turn

After one week of serious face-to-face conversation, bargainers for the UAW and Ford Motor Co. are on the brink of consensus on a four-year deal for the automaker's 41,000 unionized rank and file that might include a $7,500 signing bonus and union-won promises of new and retained jobs at Ford.

If the financials are true, the UAW will have squeezed out $2,500 more per person in bonus money for Ford Motor auto workers than it did for their UAW contemporaries at General Motors Co., where veteran UAW auto workers accepted $5,000 lump-sum bonuses from GM in lieu of COLA allowances and pay raises.

The UAW confirms the two sides are bandying "economic issues" right now and the pressure is on. Ford Motor's rank and file expect a better deal than GM got because Ford Motor made billions of dollars in profit in large part because union workers made concessions and sacrifices without being saddled with government bailout loan repayments. But UAW leaders cautioned that no numbers for the unsettled contract are set yet and called out a Detroit TV news reporter for a "reckless" broadcast claiming $13,500 in bonus money is on the way for each unionized Ford Motor worker.

In response to the WDIV TV broadcast, the UAW said on a Facebook page: "These false rumors are irresponsible and unfair to our members. They are designed to intentionally create false expectations.”

Meantime, an international news service and Detroit's daily newspaper, quoting a UAW official, said UAW plant officials have been summoned to Detroit for a Tuesday meeting "in anticipation of reaching an agreement" on a new contract with Ford Motor. Officials most likely would take contract details to union workers for a ratification vote subsequent to that meeting.

There is a push on both sides of the bargaining table to settle things quickly at Ford Motor because the UAW can legally strike Ford if talks get contentious, and Ford, like GM, wants to keep profits coming by the fistful, unfettered by distractions. The union officials coming to Detroit on Tuesday could consider taking the idea of a vote to strike to the membership for the first time in 35 years, if the UAW leadership presses for that, but the conversation right now is rhetoric-free and isn't acrimonious so that is unlikely.

Union workers have been more interested in job retention and the adding of U.S. jobs than they have been in monetary gains, and so far all sides have been able to wrangle much of what they really want to satisfy their very different needs. But as Ford Motor workers have had more time to digest the GM deal, the more they're letting UAW leaders know they expect that it is time for Ford to reward them economically for being good soldiers during tougher times.

Negotiations began in July but lingered and continued on after the 2007 UAW-Ford Motor contract expired on Sept. 14. Ford Motor and the UAW agreed to keep working under the old deal until the union and General Motors, the largest of the Detroit Three automakers, wrapped up their four-year agreement.

It just took three days for that to happen on Sept. 17 and a few days after that 48,500 UAW GM workers approved their new four-year contract by a better than 2-to-1 margin in nationwide voting at locals.

With GM put to bed, relatively fat and happy, the UAW wanted to bargain with Chrysler Group LLC, but after Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne groused that UAW President Bob King was showing favoritism to GM UAW members over Chrysler UAW members, the UAW cooled to Chrysler and shifted most of its focus to Ford Motor after the i's were dotted and the t's crossed on the GM pact.

Talks have continued to secure a new contract for Chrysler's 23,500 UAW members, but without the same on-the-march sense of urgency that has marked the UAW's negotiations with GM and Ford Motor.

Late Sunday and early today the Reuters news service and Detroit Free Press both reported that the UAW has just about concluded its business with Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor, which has been negotiating with big-gun bargainers who include UAW President Bob King and UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles.

The rank and file have confidence in their negotiators and while they're unsettled about the delay, they're holding tight.

"This is good thing that Bob King and Jimmy Settles with the Ford UAW team are not rushing this," UAW member Rob Johnson said. "They know this is a historic contract and will affect people's lives for a long time. Thanks Bob and Jimmy. We have your back!!!"

If Ford Motor doesn't deliver to the union's satisfaction, there are those who are willing to walk a picket line.

Ford Motor worker Willie Wheeler has this advice for UAW bargainers who represent him: "Take your time and get it right or STRIKE!!!!!!!!"

But it is looking like it will not come to that. Reuters and the Free Press quoted UAW spokeswoman Michele Martin as saying the UAW is "hopeful" that a labor contract can be agreed to by Tuesday.

On a UAW Ford Department Facebook page, the union team bargaining for Ford Motor workers confirmed in a post Sunday that it is persisting to win a deal fast that is meaningful.

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