UAW reaches tentative agreement with Ford

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers have reached a proposed tentative agreement less than a week after UAW members ratified an agreement with General Motors Co.

The pace of negotiations at Ford starkly contrasts that set by General Motors Co. and the UAW. The union ratified a contract Friday with GM after a six-week strike. Ford and the UAW, which continued negotiating during the strike, began main-table talks Monday morning. They wrapped three days of negotiations after 8 p.m. Wednesday.

FILE - UAW President Gary Jones and Jim Hackett, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, shaking hands, at the start of contract negotiations.

"Our national negotiators elected by their local unions have voted unanimously to recommend to the UAW-Ford National Council the proposed tentative agreement," said UAW Vice President Rory Gamble in a statement Wednesday. "Our negotiating team worked diligently during the General Motors strike to maintain productive negotiations with Ford...Out of respect for our members, we will refrain from commenting or releasing full details of the agreement until the UAW-Ford Council leaders meet and review the details."

The deal with Ford ensured more than $6 billion in product investment in Ford's U.S. facilities, according to the UAW.

"Ford can confirm the UAW’s announcement that the UAW and Ford have reached a proposed tentative agreement on a four-year contract," said Bill Dirksen, vice president of labor affairs at Ford in a statement. "Further details will be provided at a later date."

Ford-UAW presidents from around the country are expected in Dearborn on Friday to vote to present the tentative agreement to members for a ratification vote. Votes would likely be due the following Friday, Nov. 8.

Experts had expected a tentative contract with Ford would come relatively quickly. GM and the UAW had to start from scratch to establish a new four-year contract. Bargaining at Ford — and at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which will be the final Detroit automaker to negotiate a 2019 contract with the union — have the benefit of following the pattern set by GM.

Pattern bargaining essentially lays out the larger economic issues of the contract for all three automakers. The standards set in the GM contract on things like wage increases, health care coverage, the use of temporary workers, bonuses and profit sharing are expected to be mirrored at least partly in the Ford and Fiat Chrysler contracts. Pattern bargaining protects against any one Detroit automaker having a sweeter deal with its membership. 

But there are "levers" the UAW and the other automakers can pull to tailor contracts.And Ford would have more of an opportunity to tweak its contract than FCA. The final company typically has the least amount of wiggle room.

Ford was expected to push back against the $11,000 ratification bonus to which GM and the UAW agreed. The contract ratified by GM-UAW members on Friday pays record ratification bonuses to members, ensures paths to permanent employment for temporary workers, and promises wage increases for members who'd been paid less than their more their legacy counterparts. That could be expensive for Ford if the pattern were to be followed exactly.

Ford's relations with the UAW differ greatly from those between the union and its crosstown rival. The Dearborn automaker doesn't have as large of a manufacturing presence in Mexico as GM. And Ford isn't burdened with the same excess-capacity issues as GM.

The last contract was negotiated in 2015 during periods of growth. Four years later, potential plant closures, expensive bets on future technology, and an uncertain regulatory and trade environment make for a tougher negotiating environment. 

The automakers all wanted contracts that could curb spending over the next several years in anticipation of a downturn. But UAW members have been looking for a piece of the fat profits all three Detroit automakers have reported annually since the last contract was negotiated. All three Detroit automakers since the last contract have reported record earnings.

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau