UAW expected to ratify contract with Ford

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers members employed by Ford Motor Co. are poised Friday to ratify a four-year contract that promises pay raises, pathways to top wages and no health-care cost increases.

A majority of members at nearly all local unions representing Ford employees so far have voted in favor of the tentative agreement. The UAW wants vote totals by 7:30 p.m. Friday. If the contract is ratified, UAW leaders will start focusing their bargaining efforts on Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

UAW's Rory Gamble and Jim Hackett, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company, shake hands at the start of contract negotiations.

Chicago Assembly and Lima Engine in Ohio are the only two plants to have voted down the contract with a majority of production employees casting no ballots. A majority of skilled trades employees at Cleveland Engine voted down the agreement, though production workers voting yes outnumbered them.

More: Follow the UAW-Ford contract vote

Chicago turned down the vote by 64%. At this point, in order for ratification vote to fail, ballots cast against the agreement would have to be greater than that percentage, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.

"It's going to have to be profoundly negative for it to not pass," she said.

Ford's agreement includes more specifics than the contract with General Motors Co. on where it would invest its $6 billion commitment and how. The Chicago and Lima plants that voted down the agreement have some of the smallest investment commitments compared to their counterparts. So does Louisville Assembly in Kentucky, which is expected to wrap up voting on Friday, with just $100 million in planned upgrades.

Louisville is one of Ford's largest locals with nearly 13,000 members. Also finishing up on Friday are Dearborn's Local 600 and Romeo Engine Plant, which would close under the proposed agreement. The 600 hourly employees who work there, however, would be offered jobs at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant about 15 miles away.

Besides Romeo, the proposed deal does include a moratorium on outsourcing and plant closures through the life of the four-year contract. It also includes 3% wage increases in the second and fourth years and 4% lump-sum bonuses in the first and third years for eligible permanent employees.

"Ford has not made the plant closures and cutbacks that GM had previously announced," said Marick Masters, a management professor at Wayne State University's Mike Ilitch Business School. "It’s a cash-rich contract for the membership."

Permanent employees would receive $9,000 ratification bonuses — less than the $11,000 sum to GM employees who were on strike for six weeks, but more than the $8,500 Ford employees received in 2015. Ford's temporary employees would receive a $3,500 signing bonus; that compares to the $4,500 for GM workers in the latest contract and the $2,000 Ford workers got in 2015.

"They didn't have to suffer through a month-long strike," said Art Wheaton, an automotive industry specialist at Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations School. "That puts them way ahead in terms of cash."

Under the proposed contract, on Jan. 6, 2020, all temporary employees with three or more years experience will receive full-time status. If a temporary reaches three years with the company in 2020 they will be promoted to full time. If a temporary employee reaches two years or more in 2021 they will be converted to full-time status.

Unlike GM, Ford also now has an 8% cap on the number of temporary employees Ford can hire company-wide and 10% at any given facility unless otherwise approved by the national parties. Currently, temps represent 6% of Ford's UAW workforce.

Ford also has better relations with the union than the other two automakers, experts said. For example, after the contract was sent to the membership, the company and the union agreed to correct an error that would have resulted in nearly 10,000 hourly workers missing out on pay raises.

"Ford did not have to increase the money," Wheaton said. "They said, 'Nobody is getting screwed over. You're our partners. We need to fix this.'"

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble