UAW, Ford Tensions Ratcheting Up As Strikes Continue

Union President Shawn Fain says the UAW no longer will announce expansion of the strikes during his Friday Facebook Live appearances but instead will call for members “to join the strike with little notice.”

Joseph Szczesny

October 13, 2023

5 Min Read
Ford KTP strike (Getty)
UAW calls strike against Ford’s profitable Kentucky Truck Plant.Getty Images

After ramping up the strike against Ford, UAW President Shawn Fain says the union is prepared to call more walkouts at all three of Detroit’s automakers if the ongoing contract negotiations fail to yield more progress on key issues around wages and benefits.

The union for now is not widening its current strikes against Ford, General Motors and Chrysler parent Stellantis, which began Sept. 15, notes Fain, who met with Stellantis ahead of his Facebook Live appearance Friday morning.

“We’re changing our strategy,” Fain said, accusing the automakers of “gaming” the system by waiting to deliver new offers just ahead of his Friday Facebook Live appearances. “We’re in a new phase. We will be calling out plants to join the strike with little notice.”

The UAW is calling on union members and their supporters to show support for the strikes by showing up on picket lines this weekend, says Fain. For his Facebook Live appearance Friday, Fain donned a hoodie bearing the logo of an Italian auto workers union to demonstrate the international support the UAW is getting in its fight with the automakers.

The goal of the negotiations remains the same, which is to reclaim the economic territory union members have lost since the Great Recessions, Fain says.

Ford has made $77 billion in the past decade, Fain says in dismissing public pleas by company executives that the automaker cannot afford the economic package demanded by the UAW.

Fain’s statement came after a top executive claimed the UAW’s decision to broaden its strike against Ford will have serious, damaging consequences for the company’s dealers, suppliers and employees.

Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford Blue, says the company’s negotiators have told the UAW’s bargaining team it has made every effort to accommodate the union’s demands. But it can go no further. “We’ve been very clear that we are at the limit. We stretched to get to this point,” Galhotra says during a background briefing Thursday,

The briefing came on the heels of the UAW’s decision to strike at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant (KTP), the largest truck plant in the world, which employs 8,700 union members. “Going further (in meeting the UAW’s demands) will hurt our ability to invest in the business like we need to invest,” Galhotra adds.

More than 600 suppliers feed components into KTP, which also stamps out parts used by the nearby Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky and Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake, OH. In all, 13 Ford plants are connected to Kentucky Truck, including one in Canada and another in Mexico.

“The fragile supply chain will be nudged further toward collapse,” says Ford chief supply chain officer Liz Door, who adds even when the strike eventually ends suppliers are saying it will take as long as four weeks to fully resume operations.

More than 30% of smaller suppliers already have laid off employees. Many of the smaller suppliers on which Ford depends are saying they will have to hire and train new employees, Door adds.

Ford’s negotiators say they have offered pay increases of more than 20% to permanent workers, raises of 26% for temporary workers, the return of cost-of-living adjustments, a ratification bonus, increased 401(k) contributions, additional paid time off and “no job loss due to (electric-vehicle) battery plants,” among other things.

The F-Series Super Duty trucks built at Kentucky Truck account for 10% of the sales at Ford’s 3,000 dealerships. The Lincoln Navigator built at the Louisville complex accounts for 20% of sales for the company’s Lincoln dealerships.

Ted Cannis, CEO of Ford Pro and Ford Customer Service, says the F-Series Super Duty trucks built at KTP (pictured, below) are at the heart of the automaker’s flourishing commercial-vehicle business.

Ford super-duty-f-250-tremor-23.jpg

Ford super-duty-f-250-tremor-23

The UAW’s research staff estimates KTP produces roughly 400,000 vehicles annually.  The plant generates revenue of $25 billion per year, which equates to $68.5 million per day or $2.9 million per hour.

By any measure, the UAW strike, the first against Ford in nearly half a century, remains a huge blow to the company. Some 16,600 Ford workers are on strike and an additional 2,000 Ford workers are idled by the walkouts, which have hit Ford assembly plants in Michigan, Illinois and now Kentucky.

Ford was spared when the UAW expanded its targeted strike against General Motors and Stellantis on Sept. 22 with walkouts at 38 parts depots across the U.S.

UAW officials say they spared Ford during the second wave of walkouts because the company had given the union a broad economic package which came close to meeting the union’s ambitious demands.

Since then, however, the negotiations have made little headway, with Galhotra acknowledging the company and union have become engaged in complex issues revolving around the battery plants which are part of the industry’s transition to EVs.

The economic package the company laid out for the union would make the UAW members employed by Ford the best-paid auto workers in the world, according to Galhotra, with a health-care package better than the health care offered to 99% of American workers.

However, the UAW also was expecting another economic proposal from the company, but no additional contract proposal was presented during the past two weeks.  Galhotra says Ford cannot afford more, though it is willing to move the money around to better match the UAW priorities. 

The talks broke down this week, prompting Fain and the union’s Ford bargaining committee to call the strike at KTP on Wednesday evening.

“This offer was the exact same offer they gave us two weeks ago. In our position, they’re not taking it seriously,” Fain says a statement explaining the union’s decision to strike KTP. “We’ve been very patient working with a company on this. At the end of the day, they have not met expectations. They’re not even coming to the table on it.”

A majority of Americans support higher pay for workers who are on strike against the Detroit Three automakers, although approval of the workers’ other demands is more mixed, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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