UAW, Ford strike preliminary deal

Strikers picket during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
Strikers picket during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)

DETROIT -- 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, where workers will remain on strike. The UAW called on all workers at Ford to return to their jobs and said that will put pressure on GM and Stellantis to bargain. Announcements on how to do that will come later.

"We told Ford to pony up, and they did," President Shawn Fain said in a video address to members. "We won things no one thought possible." He added that Ford put 50% more money on the table than it did before the strike started on Sept. 15.

UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, the chief negotiator with Ford, said workers will get a 25% general wage increase, plus cost of living raises that will put the pay increase over 30%, to above $40 per hour for top-scale assembly plant workers by the end of the contract.

Previously Ford, Stellantis and General Motors had all offered 23% pay increases. When the talks started Ford offered 9%.

Assembly workers will get 11% upon ratification, almost equal to all of the wage increases workers have seen since 2007, Browning said.

In a major concession, Ford has also agreed to allow workers to strike over any plant closures during the next contract, an issue that weighs heavily on autoworkers who worry about factories shutting down during the transition to electric vehicles, which are less labor intensive.

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

The UAW strike is the union's first against all of Detroit's Big Three automakers at the same time. It is the first national strike that Ford has faced since 1979.

Ford chief executive Jim Farley said the company was pleased to reach the agreement and is "proud to assemble the most vehicles in America and employ the most hourly autoworkers." He said it would be up to the UAW to communicate details of the offer to its members.

"We are focused on restarting Kentucky Truck Plant, Michigan Assembly Plant and Chicago Assembly Plant, calling 20,000 Ford employees back to work and shipping our full lineup to our customers again," Farley said.

GM said in a statement it is "working constructively" with the union to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Stellantis also said it's committed to reaching a deal "that gets everyone back to work as soon as possible."

Browning said temporary workers will get more in wage increases than they have over the past 22 years combined. Temporary workers will get raises over 150% and retirees will get annual bonuses, he said.

"Thanks to the power of our members on the picket line and the threat of more strikes to come, we have won the most lucrative agreement per member since Walter Reuther was president," Browning said. Reuther led the union from 1946 until his death in 1970.

Fain said that the union's national leadership council of local union presidents and bargaining chairs will travel Sunday to Detroit, where they'll get a presentation on the agreement and vote on whether to recommend it to members. Sunday evening, the union will host a Facebook Live video appearance and later will hold regional meetings to explain the deal to members.

While on the picket line at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant west of Detroit Wednesday night, local union leaders invited workers across the road to the union hall for a briefing on the deal. As they trickled out of the building, many were smiling and most were relieved.

"It's an emotional time for me. I'm emotional," worker Keith Jurgelewicz said as his eyes welled up with tears. "But just super excited that this is over with. I just can't wait to get back to work and just get on with my life."

Jurgelewicz said he is happy that the end of the strike came during his shift on the picket lines, where he has faithfully appeared for all of his shifts.

"Hopefully, GM and Stellantis can get their deals done. ... Historic day for us," he said.

In a statement, President Joe Biden, who had visited GM picketers near Detroit early in the strikes and has billed himself the most union-friendly president in American history, praised the settlement. "I've always believed the middle class built America and unions built the middle class," Biden said. "This tentative agreement is a testament to the power of employers and employees coming together to work out their differences at the bargaining table in a manner that helps businesses succeed while helping workers secure pay and benefits they can raise a family on."

Workers with pensions also will see increases for when they retire, and those hired after 2007 with 401(k) plans will get large increases, Browning said. For the first time, the union will have the right to go on strike over company plans to close factories, he said.

"That means they can't keep devastating our communities and closing plants with no consequences," Browning said. "Together we have made history."

Ford said it is pleased to have reached the deal, and said it would focus on restarting the huge Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, as well as the Chicago Assembly Plant. The Louisville plant alone employs 8,700 workers and makes high profit heavy duty F-Series pickup trucks and big truck-based SUVs.

In all, 20,000 workers will be coming back on the job and shipping the company's full lineup of vehicles to customers, Ford said.

Ford's statement made no mention of the cost of the contract. Company executives said last week they were at the limit of what they could pay while still being able to invest in new vehicles and the transition from internal combustion to electric vehicles. All three companies have said they don't want to be saddled with high labor costs that could limit their ability to invest in future vehicles and potentially force them to raise prices.

"This agreement sets us on a new path to make things right at Ford, at the Big Three, and across the auto industry. Together, we are turning the tide for the working class in this country," Fain said.

Information for this article was contributed by Tom Krisher and Mike Householder of The Associated Press and by Jeanne Whalen and Lauren Kaori Gurley of The Washington Post.

  photo  Brian "Rooster" Heppner, a United Auto Workers Local 12 member, pickets during the ongoing UAW strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
 
 
  photo  Strikers picket at one of the gates during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
 
 
  photo  Picketers strike outside of the General Motors assembly plant, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. The United Auto Workers union is turning up the heat on General Motors as 5,000 workers walked off their jobs at the highly profitable SUV factory. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
 
 
  photo  Strikers picket at one of the gates during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
 
 
  photo  Frank Martinez, a United Auto Workers Local 12 member, pickets during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
 
 
  photo  Strikers picket at one of the gates during the ongoing United Auto Workers strike at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Toledo, Ohio. (Kurt Steiss/The Blade via AP)
 
 
  photo  United Auto Workers member Marcel Edwards carries On Strike signs from the picket line to Local 900 headquarters at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. 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. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)