Ford faces pushback over concessions

Strong earnings talk for investors is making employees skeptical

The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and the Ford Motor Co. were back at the table on October 26 to discuss adopting the pattern settlement reached with Chrysler and GM. But, things are not at all clear among the rank and file on either side of the border when it comes to concessions.

As the CLV Reports’ blog on the Canadian HR Reporter website noted on September 14, the positions of the parties are not the traditional ones: Ford has been touting its incipient profitability on Wall St. and the CAW has been talking about how precarious the auto maker’s position is. While the employer claims it doesn’t really need the concessions it is asking for, the union is trying to convince its members that the company very much does.

The only real issue left (because the CAW seems prepared to give up to Ford what it had to give up to GM and Chrysler) is continued employment and investment in Canada.

Ford reached a concessionary deal with the United Auto Workers in the U.S. on October 13 and announced new work for American plants the next week. Even so, there is a groundswell against the deal among rank and file and ratification is not a foregone conclusion.

In Canada, Ford has been unwilling to make any promises of new work for the St. Thomas plant. Canadian workers seem to be having a problem with a negotiation in which they give something and get nothing in return.

The U.S. Ford concessions have been described as “inverse pattern bargaining.” During the next round of negotiations, there will be no right to strike on wages and benefits; those will be settled by binding arbitration if necessary. And, “Wage and benefit improvements for UAW Ford workers will be based on a standard that will maintain wages and benefit comparable to all of Ford’s U.S. competitors, including transplant automotive manufacturers.”

The prospect of future concessions with no recourse is not a rosy one for the rank and file.

The CAW’s position in these talks is probably the right one, from a long-range perspective. The domestic auto industry is not yet robust. Nor will it necessarily look as it does now. Domestic producers are the CAW’s best bet and it needs to work to return them to health. But Ford seems to be talking as though it needs Canada less than Canada needs it. Convincing shop floor workers to give concessions in this environment will not be easy.

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