Autoworkers union reach tentative contract with Ford

UAW auto worker strike
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DETROIT (AP) — The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday it has reached a tentative contract agreement with Ford that could be a breakthrough toward ending the nearly 6-week-old strikes against Detroit automakers.

The four-year deal, which still has to be approved by 57,000 union members at the company, could bring a close to the union’s series of strikes at targeted factories run by Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis.

The Ford deal could set the pattern for agreements with the other two automakers, although no other agreements were announced.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

The United Auto Workers union is expected to announce a tentative contract agreement with Ford Wednesday night that could be a breakthrough toward ending the nearly 6-week-old strikes against Detroit automakers.

Two people with knowledge of the bargaining said the company and union are working on the final details of the contract and could announce it Wednesday evening in a video appearance with UAW President Shawn Fain. The people asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak publicly about the bargaining.

Terms of the deal weren’t immediately available, but both sides have been discussing a four-year contract. It would have to be approved by 57,000 union members at Ford.

The Ford deal could set the pattern for agreements with the other two automakers.

The people said the union made a counter-offer to Ford that proposes a 25% general wage increase over the life of a new contract and said that negotiations on Tuesday extended well into Wednesday. Previously Ford, Stellantis and General Motors had all offered 23% pay increases.

A Ford deal would include cost-of-living pay increases that could lift the total pay raises above 30%, said the people. In addition, workers would still receive annual profit-sharing checks.

Typically, during past auto strikes, a UAW deal with one automaker has led the other companies to match it with their own settlements.

One of the people said there also was progress in the union’s talks with GM. But it was unclear whether any of the automakers had accepted the UAW’s counter-offer of 25% pay increases over four years.

The progress in the negotiations came after the union this week walked out at three factories that produce highly profitable pickup trucks and SUVs, adding them to the list of plants already on strike in a strategy to intensify pressure on the companies.

On Tuesday, about 5,000 workers at GM’s assembly plant in Arlington, Texas, walked out, halting production of truck-based SUVs that are huge profit makers for the company. A day earlier, the UAW’s president, Shawn Fain, had added 6,800 employees at Stellantis’ Ram pickup plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Two weeks ago the union struck Ford’s largest and most profitable factory, the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, where 8,700 workers make heavy-duty F-Series pickups and two large SUVs.

In all, about 46,000 workers have walked out at factories owned by the three companies in a series of targeted strikes that began Sept. 15. About 32% of the union’s 146,000 members at the automakers are now on strike and getting by on $500 per week in strike pay. The automakers have been laying off workers at other plants as parts shortages have cascaded through their manufacturing systems.

Todd Dunn, president of the UAW local at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant, said he was told by people within the union’s leadership that the company is nearing an agreement.

“I’ve heard they are moving the needle as aggressively as possible,” Dunn said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s very positive.”

The prospect of a breakthrough, he said, has raised the spirits of workers who are willing to stay out on strike to reach a deal despite hardships for some.

Dunn said he thinks the strike at his plant had nudged Ford along in the talks and could help yield the best contract he’s seen in 29 years with the company.

Neither the companies nor the union would comment on the talks Wednesday. The union’s counter-offer of a 25% wage increase over four years was reported earlier by Bloomberg News and the trade publication Automotive News.

One key issue is whether to extend the national UAW contract to 11 U.S. electric vehicle battery factories. This would essentially ensure that workers there would be represented by the union.

All but one of these plants are joint ventures with South Korean battery makers. GM has agreed to this, but the other companies have balked, saying their joint venture partners must also agree.

GM CEO Mary Barra said Tuesday that the offer to bring the battery plants into the master union agreement was still open but that they would have to meet what she called “benchmark economics and also operating flexibility.”

Having union representation at the battery factories is a vital issue for the union because these plants will house many of the jobs of the future as the industry transitions away from gasoline vehicles. Workers who now make engines and transmissions at all three companies will need places to work as their plants are phased out.

All three companies have said they don’t want to absorb labor costs that are so high that they would force price increases and make their vehicles more expensive than those made by nonunion companies such as Tesla and Toyota.

A study this month by Moody’s Investor Service found that annual labor costs could rise by $1.1 billion for Stellantis, $1.2 billion for GM and $1.4 billion for Ford in the fourth year of the contract. The study assumed a 20% increase in hourly labor costs.

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