Ford-UAW deal passes by narrow margin

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers employees at Ford Motor Co. narrowly ratified a four-year contract that is among the richest in the history of collective bargaining between the two sides.

The deal was passed by a slim 51.4 percent margin, the union said late Friday. Roughly 51.3 percent of production workers voted for the deal, while 52.4 percent skilled trades said “yes.”

Ratification of the Ford deal came hours after the union ratified the General Motors Co. contract, which had been held up for a week after rejection by skilled trades members. New labor deals are now in place at all three automakers after a long and often contentious process that’s unfolded since the previous contracts expired Sept. 14.

The fate of the deal came down to the final ballots at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, which finished voting at 6 p.m. Friday. Final results from the entire union local were not immediately released, but roughly 4,300 workers at Dearborn Truck passed it by a 74 percent margin, and roughly 1,600 workers at Dearborn Stamping passed it by a 71 percent margin. Local 600 represents about 8,200 total workers.

“Our UAW members have ratified the national agreement after a long process and much debate,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement. “The voice of the majority has secured a strong future that will provide job security and economic stability for themselves and their families.”

John Fleming, Ford’s executive vice president for global manufacturing and labor affairs, said, “This agreement provides a good foundation for Ford Motor Company, our employees and our communities as we work together to create an even stronger business in the years ahead.”

UAW-Ford Department Vice President Jimmy Settles said, “There is no higher authority than the membership. Through a fair and democratic process UAW-Ford members have delivered job security and strong economic gains for their families and communities.”

But almost immediately, some workers took to the UAW International’s official Facebook page and called for a recount.

“Recount & investigation required!!!” a Facebook user named Jeff Mathews posted on the page.

“The votes didn’t matter,” wrote another Facebook commenter named Brian Adair. “It was going to pass regardless. That’s how crooked they are.”

The Ford deal gives all workers significant raises. It includes $9 billion in plant investments, more than General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles combined. And it creates or retains 8,500 jobs. Workers will receive $10,000 bonuses, and retirees will get $1,000 total over the course of the four-year pact.

But some workers wanted more. Many believed the eight-year progression to top wages should have been shorter and felt retirees deserved more. They wanted back all the concessions they had given during the economic downturn when the automakers were struggling for survival.

“Why can’t we get back to the pay and benefits we used to have? Don’t tell us the company can’t afford it,” said Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committee member from Local 600 in Dearborn, who has openly opposed the deal.

On Wednesday, the union launched a last-ditch effort to save the pact as UAW-Ford Vice President Jimmy Settles and Local 600 President Bernie Ricke called a news conference in Dearborn to emphasize the contract’s benefits. They warned that a better deal likely wouldn’t happen. But “no” votes from large plants in Chicago and Dearborn made passage of the deal less likely.

“A lot of people are upset,” said Joe Marx, 45, a Local 600 member who recently was bumped up from second-tier wages. “It’s not a totally bad contract, but when you get to the heart of it ... it’s not like it used to be.”

Art Wheaton, a labor expert from Cornell, said the close vote means both sides did their job.

“They did not do a bad job of bargaining,” he said. “They got quite a bit.”

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