UAW Strike Expands to Ford’s High-Profit Kentucky Truck Plant

The expansion of the walkouts to Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant raises the number of UAW members on strike at Detroit’s three automakers to 33,000.

Joseph Szczesny

October 12, 2023

4 Min Read
UAW Local 862-Ford KY Truck
Strike by members of UAW Local 862 halts production of Ford Super Duty pickup, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs at Kentucky Truck Plant.UAW

The UAW suddenly and surprisingly expands the union’s so-called stand-up strikes by taking out Ford’s largest and most profitable assembly plant, the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, KY.

The expansion of the walkouts to Kentucky Truck raises the number of UAW members on strike at Detroit’s three automakers to 33,000. It also serves to underscore the importance the UAW puts on reaching an accord that locks in the union’s position at electric-vehicle and battery plants, including the Blue Oval plant under construction outside Memphis, TN.

Members of UAW Local 862 employed at Kentucky Truck build Ford Super Duty pickups as well as the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator (pictured, below), which are among Ford’s most profitable and expensive vehicles.

Lincoln Navigator 23 screenshot.png

Lincoln Navigator 23 screenshot

The strikes at Ford, which have now closed three of the company’s seven assembly plants in the U.S., are exacerbated by the fact the walkouts are the first against the company since 1976. That means almost none of Ford’s managers are used to dealing with the militant brand of unionism deployed by UAW President Shawn Fain.

“We have been crystal clear, and we have waited long enough, but Ford has not gotten the message,” Fain says in announcing the expansion of the strike.

At this point, Ford’s top management, which is labeling the expanded walkout as “irresponsible,” appears unwilling to accommodate the union on the new EV and battery plants in Tennessee where the state legislature, which controls the subsidies Ford needs to complete the plants, is deeply anti-union.

Ford’s position contrasts with General Motors which, according to Fain, has committed in writing to putting its new battery plants under the master GM-UAW labor agreement. GM is not saying anything publicly to challenge Fain’s assertion.

Meanwhile, Chrysler parent Stellantis says it will place its new battery plant in Fain’s hometown of Kokomo, IN, (pictured, below) where the company is home to four transmission and engine plants and long-established union infrastructure.

Stellantis Samsung screenshot.png

Stellantis Samsung screenshot_0

The decision to build the battery plant in Kokomo fits the UAW’s desire for the automakers to make EV investments in a way that could minimize the impact on union members.

Stellantis and electronics giant Samsung say Kokomo will be the site of a second battery manufacturing facility in the U.S. as part of the StarPlus Energy joint venture.

The new StarPlus Energy plant is expected to begin production in early 2027 with an annual capacity of 34 GWh. The joint venture company will invest over $3.2 billion and create 1,400 jobs in Kokomo and the surrounding areas. The total investment for both facilities will be over $6.3 billion and create 2,800 jobs.

“Our battery ecosystem is the foundation of our electrification strategy and our great partners Samsung SDI, the State of Indiana and the City of Kokomo have created a compelling case for locating our sixth gigafactory in Kokomo,” says Mark Stewart, Stellantis North America chief operating officer.

“The BEVs coming to our North America brands play an important role in our drive to offer clean, safe and affordable mobility for all and achieve the bold goal of carbon net zero by 2038,” says Stewart, who has remained silent about the strike even after more than 5,400 union members walked off the job Sept. 15 at plants belonging to Stellantis, Ford and GM.

Ford, however, is following a different course as it sharply criticizes the UAW’s leadership.

“The decision by the UAW to call a strike at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant is grossly irresponsible but unsurprising given the union leadership’s stated strategy of keeping the Detroit 3 wounded for months through ‘reputational damage’ and ‘industrial chaos,’” Ford says in a statement.

“Ford made an outstanding offer that would make a meaningful positive difference in the quality of life for our 57,000 UAW-represented workers, who are already among the best compensated hourly manufacturing workers anywhere in the world,” the statement says. “In addition to our offer on pay and benefits, Ford has been bargaining in good faith this week on joint-venture battery plants, which are slated to begin production in the coming year. 

“The UAW leadership’s decision to reject this record contract offer – which the UAW has publicly described as the best offer on the table – and strike Kentucky Truck Plant carries serious consequences for our workforce, suppliers, dealers and commercial customers,” Ford says.

Fain, eschewing his previous tactic of announcing a strike after setting a hard deadline, says the walkout was expanded after Ford refused to make further movement in bargaining. The strike began Wednesday evening after a brief meeting between union and company negotiators.

Signs the negotiations at Ford had stalled had proliferated during the week as supplier companies announced more strike-related layoffs. GM and Stellantis offered few comments on the layoffs but Ford says the layoffs were the result of the UAW’s unwillingness to resolve key issues.

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