Ford Workers Opposing Contract in Early Votes

Early results of voting on the new Ford-United Auto Workers contract give an edge to opponents of the agreement. Reformers in the union are organizing to get the 41,000 Ford workers to again vote “no” on their national contract, as they did in October 2009.

UAW reformers oppose the contract because it would freeze wages and substitute bonuses—which wouldn’t recover the losses from years of concessions—and it would permanently institutionalize the two-tier wage system. Despite raises for the lower tier, the contract provides no bridge to higher wages.

In response, the national union put out the word that a "no" vote would mean a strike and that Ford would hire scabs—a fantasy designed to scare members. Veteran activist Jerry Tucker, a former UAW regional director and leader of the New Directions reform movement within the union, called the “invitation” by the UAW leadership to hire scabs “a vehicle of coercion. Ford would not contemplate hiring scabs either as a pressure tactic or in reality….an auto employer’s entire workforce could not be replaced and the company and the union leaders damn well know it.”

Detroit 3 workers last walked out in 2007, in a two-day strike at GM that many reformers suspected was designed to let off steam before a concessions-heavy agreement was announced. Though the 2007 strike featured sparse picket lines because the union did not mobilize members for a confrontation, GM made no attempt to bring in scabs.

This year, although Ford members took ritual strike votes in their locals, they say UAW leaders have done nothing to prepare for a strike.

Ford Is Flush

Members feel the contract is a raw deal at flush Ford. A Chicago assembly plant voted no by 77 percent. Workers at Local 900, covering a Focus assembly plant west of Detroit, voted “no” by 56 votes. The shop chair there opposed the agreement because of onerous "alternative work schedules." Still to vote are contentious locals in Kansas City and at the large Rouge plant outside Detroit.

The Autoworkers Caravan group is circulating a leaflet urging a “no” vote. It says, “Ford is rolling in profits and Wall Street is tickled to see this contract.”

Local 900 member Dave Dogonski described himself as a fence-sitter who had voted yes. “I would like to have voted no in order to make a political statement,” he said. “How can the union in one breath support things like Occupy Wall Street but at the same time let the corporations take windfall profits and not get us a raise?”

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Ford is currently the richest of the Detroit 3, and the only company where workers have the right to strike. UAW President Bob King negotiated a package that is richer monetarily than the one ratified by GM workers last month. They will receive signing bonuses of $6,000 rather than $5,000 and annual bonuses of $1,500 rather than $1,000.

In contrast, the agreement with Chrysler announced yesterday includes only a $1,750 signing bonus and possible $1,000 annual bonus, though it does raise wages for entry-level employees—projected to become 25 percent of the workforce.

Judy Wraight, an instrument repairperson at Ford’s ancient Rouge complex, pointed out that $1,500 is the monetary equivalent of just three of the concessions workers made in 2009 (one holiday, less daily break time, and a Christmas bonus). Two other concessions—a wage freeze in place since 2005 and the 99 cents-per-hour wage cut workers took when they gave up the cost-of-living allowance—were not addressed.

Auto company execs are clear that they want to shift workers to half wages—permanently.

GM CEO Dan Akerson said recently that although “we don't need to get there tomorrow,” his aim is to replace higher-paid workers with those now starting at $15.78, partly through buyouts of senior workers and skilled trades.

But the contracts contain no pension increases, for the first time, and they take away the small Christmas bonus most retirees had received.

The UAW says that Ford will invest to create new jobs, but the reformers counter: “What does the record tell us about promises like that? Every contract for decades has been presented as a ‘job security contract,’ but UAW-Ford has lost half its membership since 1999.”

For more rank-and-file leaflets about the Ford and GM contracts, see Soldiers of Solidarity and Factory Rat.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.