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Ford workers in Kansas City could strike Sunday

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
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The eyes of the auto industry were riveted on voting by Fiat Chrysler workers, but United Auto Workers leaders said Tuesday that more than 7,000 members at Ford Motor Co.’s Kansas City Assembly Plant may strike Sunday if a local labor contract is not reached.

The plant is critical to Ford because it makes the popular F-150 trucks.

Union leaders said the indefinite contract extension approved Sept. 14 at the plant had been canceled; the two sides have five days to come to an agreement on a local pact, which is separate from the national agreement still being hammered out.

National talks with Ford and General Motors Co. are on the back burner as the union tries to ratify a proposed deal with FCA.

“We have been unable to reach a fair local agreement with the Ford Motor Company after meeting over 40 times since April,” Todd Hillyard, bargaining chairman for UAW Local 249, wrote on Facebook. “The company refuses to address important issues around safety, seniority and manpower at KCAP. We feel we have no other choice at this point to reach a fair agreement.”

Besides the F-150, the plant produces Transit vans. Ford also makes F-150s in Dearborn.

A strike of any length at Ford’s 4 million-square-foot Kansas City plant would be a major blow to the Dearborn automaker. Ford is just now starting to build inventory of its profitable pickup after a tight supply — due to a changeover to the aluminum model — hurt the company’s bottom line in the first quarter.

“You go after where the profits are being made,” said Kristin Dziczek, Center for Automotive Research director of the Industry & Labor Group, in explaining the union’s strategy.

Ford-UAW Department Vice President Jimmy Settles said in an update to membership on Tuesday that he had given 120-hours notice to Ford and received approval from the international union for a strike by Local 249.

“This action is necessary for two reasons,” Settles wrote. “One, it honors a commitment your national Ford delegates unanimously agreed to in March of this year, to have all local agreements completed simultaneous to the national agreement. Secondly, the company has failed to negotiate in good faith at the local level on issues surrounding manpower provisions, the national heat stress program and skilled trades scheduling amongst others.

“The challenges we face may not be easy, and I certainly cannot predict the future, but I would rather die fighting than to do an injustice to this membership or our institution.”

Settles made it clear that UAW members with Ford should expect a different deal than the one being voted on by workers at Fiat Chrysler.

“Many aspects of FCA’s current agreement are different than the agreement we currently have with Ford, such as attendance policy, work schedules, vacation language, discipline, job security, apprenticeship testing and progression of entry-level to legacy pay rates, to name a few,” he said.

“In addition, there have been instances in the past where Ford, FCA and GM have even had differing pay scales and rates.”

Dziczek said if the two sides were making progress by Friday, they could extend the agreement again, but a strike authorization from the international was an important step.

“If you have an arrow in your quiver, (the strike authorization is like) taking it out and getting ready to notch it back,” she said.

The plant posted a strike assignment bulletin to members, detailing when and where they’d be required to picket in the case of a strike. Striking members would receive $200 a week from the union’s strike fund beginning with the eighth day of the strike Monday through Tuesday.

“We work every day to avoid a disruption of our production, and we are confident we will be able to negotiate a fair and competitive labor agreement with our UAW partners,” Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski said in a statement.

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