Ford Motor Co, the most profitable US carmaker, heads into contract talks with the United Auto Workers next week in the worst position among the companies.
Because Ford didn't take a government bailout, it lacks two weapons rivals have: binding arbitration and a ban on strikes.
As part of US-backed bankruptcies in 2009, workers at General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC agreed not to strike over wages and benefits during these contract talks and to take unsettled disputes from the bargaining table to arbitration. Workers at Ford went against the wishes of union leaders and rejected the strike ban and arbitration, so Ford is the only US automaker that faces the threat of a strike.
"There's no doubt that Ford would be better off if they had binding arbitration," said Kristin Dziczek, a labor analyst at the Centre for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "Ratifying a deal at Ford is a bit more dicey than the other two because they've proven they'll turn down an agreement."
The union usually picks one automaker to create a deal it uses as a template with the other two. This pattern bargaining has kept wages and benefits close to parity among the three automakers, which now employ about 113,000 US hourly workers.
This time, the parity could be disrupted: With Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford earning $9.3 billion (Dh34.16 billion) in the last two years, workers there may hesitate to accept an agreement crafted at GM or Chrysler or by an arbitrator for those companies.
"If either GM or Chrysler went to arbitration, the real question would then be whether the UAW could live with that agreement at Ford," said Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, dean of the School of Labour and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "It won't go to a strike at GM or Chrysler, so it really puts Ford in a very difficult circumstance."
UAW President Bob King said the union's legal staff "is focusing on the arbitration process because we have a responsibility to be prepared." That's not an option the union intends to invoke, he added.
"We don't expect or want to go to arbitration," King said in an e-mailed statement. "We're focused on getting good contracts for our members."
At Ford, UAW members are focused on getting back what they gave up. King has said workers must be rewarded for the $7,000 to $30,000 in concessions they each gave since 2005 to help the US automakers survive.
"The average worker on the factory floor is saying, ‘I want my Christmas bonus back and I want my cost of living increase back'," said Brian Pannebecker, a hoist operator at Ford's axle plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan. "Ford should take the lead role in talks because we not negotiating from a position of weakness."
Ford rewarded Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally in March with $56.6 million in stock for leading the automaker's turnaround. In addition, his 2010 compensation rose 48 per cent to $26.5 million. King has called Mulally's stock award "morally wrong" and "outrageous."
Ford declined to elaborate on the lack of a no-strike clause.
"We have a strong relationship with the UAW," John Stoll, a Ford spokesman, said in an e-mail. "We have a history of working collaboratively together to find solutions to critical issues and we look forward to our discussions with them."
The threat of a strike at Ford gives the union more strength at the bargaining table. Not having that weapon at GM and Chrysler will make those talks more challenging, UAW GM vice-president Joe Ashton said.
If GM and Chrysler take the lead and go to binding arbitration, their workers will not get to vote. Ford's 41,000 hourly workers would still have a ratification vote. In 2009, more than 70 per cent of Ford workers rejected a second round of concessions that included the strike ban, which King had endorsed. "The Ford membership not being where the UAW leadership is could really screw things up," Dziczek said.
While Ford workers want to recover what they lost, the automaker still says it needs to lower its labour costs.
From / Gulf News